Diana McNish
Diana McNish WOMEN

September 16 - November 21, 2010
Salvage One, 1840 W. Hubbard St., Chicago

Opening Party: September 16, 6:00 - 9:00 PM

A Celebration of 80 Years of observation and 40 years of sculpting

Since her debut as an artist in the late 1960’s, among the themes Diana McNish has explored in her figurative sculptures is female sexuality. McNish attended a convent school, trained as a nurse, married and became the mother of four daughters before finding her voice as an artist.Drawing inspiration from history, mythology, popular culture and literature, and most importantly from her imagination, makes for a rich cast of characters. In the artist’s body of work there are female tramps,courtly ladies, classical figures, characters drawn from contemporary life, and women in all stages of motherhood, from Leda (to be seduced by a god) in Leda and the Swan, to Pregnant Woman, The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, and Empty Nest Syndrome. Diana McNish’s women are brazen. They’re bold. They demand your attention. They take up space and look the viewer in the eye. Many are theatrical; figures in a pose embellished with a collage of fabrics, costume jewelry, hair and paint. They make you laugh or gasp or smile.

McNish builds figures with driftwood, steel supports, a casting process, and vintage objects she collects at Salvage One and at Flea Markets, including fabrics, books, jewelry, industrial and household refuse, and architectural salvage. The foundation of each sculpture is driftwood collected over the past forty years on the shores of beaches outside of Vancouver, B.C., where the artist spent her summers as a child. Central to McNish’s creative process is a question with which she begins each piece, a question her father would ask of her when the two would walk the beaches together, looking at driftwood: ‘What do you see?’

Original Sin exemplifies a rawness of the artist’s most recent body of work that will debut at Salvage One with a celebration of eighty years of life and forty years of art-making this fall. The sculptures are pared down, intimate, poignant and bare. One must approach to see Pregnant Woman, Aging Satyress, Original Sin, and Irish Washer Woman. These are not show girls. Their stories are elemental. Essential. Over time the women Diana McNish has brought to life in her sculptures make up a remarkable group as complex and colorful as Fellini’s. They represent the many facets of life as observed and experienced by the artist over her eighty years.

'Of This Land – The Artist’s Touch'
Salvage One, Chicago, IL

Artists’ appreciation of the land is often represented in vistas with imagery that represents what one discovers through the eye or by looking. From the rise of landscape painting throughout Europe and the Americas in the 19th century with artists from John Constable to J. M. W. Turner to Thomas Cole, to the 20th century’s embrace of landscape photography with Ansel Adams and tourists alike, artists have presented attractive vistas of specific locales in pictures. In landscape painting and photography, artists’ appreciation of the earth is shown in a caress of the land the eye makes.

With the earthworks movement of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s and artists like Andy Goldsworthy, Richard Long, and Robert Smithson, art is made by hand in rather than about the landscape. With earthworks the artist physically ventures into the landscape, arranging natural objects in what is more of a meditation or an interaction with the land than a rendering. Earthworks artists typically render – and exhibit - their work or experience with photography. Artists represented in Of this Land – The Artist’s Touch share a proclivity to engage with the natural world with artists of the earthworks movement. Instead of rendering the wonder of a place – or in a place – they bring its remnants, salvage, or detritus into their studios to create, with their hands, their own unique visions.

Diana McNish incorporates pieces of and references a location from her childhood; a cluster of beaches on the Gulf Islands off the shore of Vancouver, British Columbia, in her work. The base and source of inspiration for each sculpture the artist has created over the past forty years is driftwood she has collected on or nearby Savary Island, where she spent summers as a girl. Each year McNish travels ‘home’ to these islands by boat and on foot, gathering driftwood that speaks to her: an eagle’s wing here, a torso there, the beak of a bird or the muzzle of a beast, and carries the pieces, bundled up in burlap sacks that have washed ashore, home to her studio in Geneva, IL. where she stores them, each with its label, in what might otherwise be a wine cellar. In her studio McNish brings the driftwood back to life, sculpting tableaux and figures that reference mythology, literature, history, and the depths of her imagination. She works with steel supports, a casting process, and treasures she collects at Salvage One and the Kane County Flea Market, including vintage fabrics, books, jewelry, and industrial and household refuse. In importing the detritus of a place where she experienced the magic of being a child into her studio (and creative process), the artist accesses a delightful wonderment she brings into her work – and to her viewer.

-Danielle Klinenberg, 2009