Dietlind Vander Schaaf is a New England Wax member who lives in Portland, Maine and shares a studio in West Falmouth with artist Anne Strout. Recently, fellow NEW member, Willa Vennema, interviewed Dietlind about her work and inspiration.
Q: Please describe for us your process for creating art.
A. My process begins with an idea or a subject I want to explore visually. Before I begin working with materials, I conduct a certain amount of research. I read books or articles, take notes, listen to interviews, go for walks and think, and draw very rough sketches or outlines. I tend to think in terms of a body of work rather than individual pieces, so I create a series of small studies on panels ranging from 4″ x 4″ to 6″ x 6″ to problem solve technical aspects and to consider how the pieces might speak to one another.
All of these acts allow me to work with the parts of my mind that are analytical, logical, ordered, and objective, enabling me to approach the creation of a piece from those perspectives. Once I begin creating, I move into a space that is intuitive and fluid, almost pre-verbal. I find the repetitive act of building layers of medium deeply meditative. It is an act very much rooted in the body and in movement. I work quietly, in solitude, for long hours in a barn studio on 14 acres. The only sounds are birds, the occasional snowmobiler, or my dog reminding me that it’s time to take a break.
Q; “I am especially drawn to your piece Winter, probably because I like the landscape feel it projects. Can you tell me about this piece, and if you feel it is different in that it has that landscape element, or maybe you do not see it that way?”
A. Winter is more representational than most of my work, but it still reflects my interest in minimalism in the sense of paring away anything non-essential to get at the essence of an experience or thing. I made that piece after I returned from the first half of a month-long yoga teacher training at Kripalu in Lenox, MA. It was December and we had several heavy snowfalls during the time I was there. Each day we had an hour and a half break during lunch. I used the time to go for walks outside, often down to a frozen lake. The snow was fresh and undisturbed along the sides of the walking path. Where it had fallen on the reeds and saplings, it created this beautiful pattern of dark lines. I took multiple pictures and worked with them in my studio when I returned home, trying to recreate the balance of emptiness and form.
All of my work over the past year has been focused on an effort to seek quiet and stillness. Sometimes the imagery arises internally through contemplative practice; sometimes I find a pattern in the external landscape. Winter was a study for me–eventually I will recreate that piece as a much larger painting, perhaps even a triptych. The negative space in that piece is as important as the marks themselves. Much like a line break in a poem, it dictates a tone or quality of spaciousness.
Q. “Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself or your life that you think has had an impact on your work as an artist?”
A. I have had many wonderful teachers and professors over the years. My work draws from and reflects these varied sources—the poetic tradition, Christian mysticism, Zen Buddhism, yoga and meditation, astronomy, theoretical physics. Making art is a way for me to explore ideas visually. I have been fortunate enough to travel in Africa, China, Central America, and parts of Europe. Now I am interested in investigating the interior landscape, in cultivating a sense of stillness or quiet that is palpable in my work. I am fascinated, for example, with the fact that inside us there is more empty space between molecules than there are molecules themselves. I want my work to reflect that fascination with emptiness, with the temporal, with the fleeting nature of time, and with that essential question—what is the nature of human existence? The poet Mary Oliver pointed at this when she asked: “Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” Increasingly I want my work to emotionally affect the viewer, not through color or motion, but by imparting a sense of quieting or calming.