MEMORIES OF BURMA
Several great artists in the 20th century traveled extensively. In most cases they returned with little more than a pile of postcards and some very brief drawings. Matisse, following Gaughin’s lead, went to Tahiti and returned with barely more than this, but he would ruminate on the trip, in his art, for the rest of his life. In a way, that which, by nature, bubbles to the surface of the imagination is oftentimes the essence of the experience. Sometimes that essence has a tangible form that unfolds slowly, revealing the deeper aspects of the journey.
In Diane Giles’ recent work, we are given just this essence…the after-image, or, as she describes it, “the aura and atmosphere” of the monks which she encountered on a daily basis on her most recent trip to Burma. Diane’s recent work is an exquisite set of paintings literally plucked from the mists of her imagination after several trips to Asia. The monks of Burma are the living symbols and practitioners of Buddhism. Their physical presence is a reminder to all who encounter them that we possess a spiritual nature as well as our physical existence. About the time Diane’s ethereal body of work on the monks came to fruition, the Burmese monks were experiencing trials at home. In the news earlier this year, we witnessed these very same Burmese monks being chased and beaten by the military in clouds of tear gas after protesting their oppression by the government. In a totalitarian regime, monks, like artists, are some of the first to be rounded up and silenced.
Diane’s paintings are therefore both timely and timeless. They evoke both joy and sadness. They are beautiful and poignant. They are filled with what Lao-Tse called “the pairs of opposites” and “the ten thousand things.” It is not surprising that Diane Giles’ paintings evoke so much of this essence of Asian and Buddhist culture as she has, herself, sifted quite profound meaning and understanding from her decades of travel to the Buddhist countries of Asia.
Once, at an art opening, a rather irksome observer asked Barnett Newman how long it took him to paint his very minimal, striped paintings. He paused, and said, “about 40 years”.
Diane Giles paintings have been a long time coming. They are definitely worth the wait.
by Rick Stich, Artist and Educator