Catching the Wave – Going With the Flow Sets One Painter’s Unconscious Free

Accident and coincidence are strong forces in Diane Hause’s life and work. Things line up. Chance leads down unforeseen paths, toward new destinations and paintings that — sort of — paint themselves.

Her latest work, a large-scale installation at her studio/gallery, is, she says, her strongest experience of going with the flow.

“This is the most unconscious painting I’ve ever done,” says the 53-year-old artist as she shows a visitor around the converted automobile manufacturing warehouse in the art-centric Castleberry Hill section of downtown Atlanta, where she lives and works.

The centerpiece is an 8-foot-by-16-foot painting that covers most of one wall. Other elements of the installation, scattered about the 2,200-square-foot gallery, include slabs of cypress, a hand-carved canoe and photographs of a North Carolina swamp. The painting incorporates an outsize re-creation of “The Great Wave” by 19th-century Japanese legend Hokusai. Called “Quest for the Echo’s Source,” the piece is an attempt to come to grips with the colossal, spirit-erasing tsunami that devastated the East last Christmas.

In the painting, an agonized mother and father drag their dead child from the waves, near a petal-bedecked branch of a flowering cherry tree and a halo-crowned lamb.

Pain and transcendence are bundled together in a work that, when Hause set out, promised to be mostly pain. “I’m trying to find redemption in the piece,” she says. “In this world, it gets harder and harder to find redemption.”

The artist approached the installation in an offbeat manner, starting with a canoe that appeared in a shallow dream one night.

“I woke myself up and thought, that must be significant. Maybe that’s the hook.”

Shortly thereafter, she ran into a real canoe, a hand-carved cypress craft at a sawmill in North Carolina where she was buying slices of ancient cypress trees. The canoe, the bark-clad cypress boards and her photos of the swampy North Carolina landscape near Wilmington all became part of the installation.

Then she began working on the painting, setting up 10 side-by-side plywood panels. Wondering what exactly she was going to begin with, Hause donned her smock, which had been hanging unused for eight months. In the pocket was a note from a friend, on a notecard printed with the famous Japanese image of a many-fingered blue and white wave.  That was it.

Other images also tumbled into the mix — a rearing horse, a monarch butterfly, the planet Saturn, the Black Madonna.

Visitors to the gallery watched as the piece took shape and added their thoughts, inscribing slips of paper and placing them in the cypress canoe. One named Peggy wrote: “I sat and rocked in your chair and wept and do not understand, but bless you Diane for processing all this horror into absorbable tender loving universal beauty.”

Hause frequently hosts benefits and arts events. She staged “Studio Sweepings” last November, convincing 110 area artists to contribute Ziploc-bag-size “leftovers” from their work to raise money for children in coffee-growing communities.

“After the tsunami I was overwhelmed,” Hause says. She felt obliged to make some kind of art, but her studio had already been booked for three other shows.

“The last show left in March, and when the last piece of art was out, I washed the walls, painted the space, then the pressure was on. It was like writer’s block. I asked myself, ‘Is anything going to come?’ Falling asleep, I told myself, ‘After all these years, just let it come. Get out of the way and let it come.’ ”

— Bo Emerson for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution,
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