Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Studio Time with Artist Jen Dietrich

This is part two of my interview with Jen Dietrich, UMD art professor. In our initial communications she stated that a visit to her studio would be beneficial in understanding her current work. Indeed, the studio visit proved exceedingly helpful.

Jen Dietrich's Lakeside home gives her close proximity to the university where she teaches. Like many artists that I know, myself included, a portion of her garage has been converted into a studio. The tidy compact space is brightly lit, amplified by clean white walls. It gives the impression of being well insulated and tightly buttoned, a necessity for Northland artists who hope to also do four seasons in their art spaces.

Her current work focuses on feminism and NFL football in a manner that would otherwise be difficult to envision until you see it firsthand. Her baseball series consisted of male figures, but this current series is football players and coaches with female characters overlaid.

Dietrich showed her strong comprehension of the game that came in part from marrying a man who played football. She explained that there are both offensive and defensive players on a football team, a very different setup from baseball. “The offensive line is often more intelligent, protective and nurturing than the defense,” she noted. “The approach to the game by offense and defense is almost polar opposite. It’s such an interesting contrast because I never thought about it on that level.”

She mentioned some of the female athletes she knew growing up and how she had begun overlaying their images over these male icons, Darah Torres over Greg Nettles, for example. It was a way of feminizing male icons so to speak. Some of the paintings that I saw in progress at Dietrich’s studio included one of Mike Ditka who would be overlaid with Gloria Steinum and another of Bud Grant underneath Madeline Albright. It’s definitely an unexpected take on the national pastime.

During my visit, Dietrich made a number of interesting observations on various themes that we touched on. “The dialogue is what keeps art alive,” she said.

A little later we circled around one of the current trends of our time. “In post-modern times, the original is not valued as much due to digital reproduction… Not everyone is physically rubbing oil paint on surfaces but nearly everyone can do Photoshop.”

"How did your interest in film come about?" I asked. "And what prompted you to collaborate with Sarah Nitschke to form Underbelly Films?"

"The film we started in 2004, which has really pre-occupied Sarah and I. It was especially challenging being a single mom with three kids. (Dietrich is now four years married to a man from Iowa and the family has six children between them.) 

The film they produced is called Naked Vision. It's a documentary about the painter Philip Pearlstein. After watching the film I went online to find this summary at imdb.com. Ironic, imperturbable, mischievous and fascinating, Philip Pearlstein's controversial creative vision continues to drive him forward, upstream against time and art history. In depth interviews with famous art world figures, Chuck Close, Richard Armstrong, Robert Storr, Pearlstein and others, help to reveal what is behind the man and his paintings.

"One thing that really attracted me to Phillip was that he just wears beige. He's non-flamboyant, and productive," Dietrich stated.

He was also a friend of Andy Warhol's while in school in Pittsburgh and actually played a part in Warhol coming to New York. He was a little older than Andy, and Andy's mother felt better about her son venturing off to the Big Apple if the two went together.

Dietrich said the film direction was "quite fulfilling and a great example of pushing the envelope. (It had) all the components of a great tale-- Alaska, art world icons, 15 minutes of fame (literally), paying it forward and, of course, New York City.

"Sarah was my colleague at UMD. And in 2003 we attended a conference together in New York. The film's inception happened then."

It's apparent that Dietrich has a strong work ethic, and seemingly boundless energy. She is easy to engage as her mind is nimble and her stance toward people very open. It's easy to see why her students appreciate her instruction.

The images on this page are "works in progress" that reveal a bit of the process behind her vision. We'll look forward to the opportunity to see this new series once it reaches fruition. What you see here is not what you'll get.

Thank you, Jen, for your time and for opening up your space.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fascinating, I love hearing about an artists process.