Art as a means of unification

By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor

Whether painting figures or wildlife, Gallatin Gateway artist Diana Tremaine is driven by a search for truth and a desire to create works that speak to the universal traits of humanity.

As a young girl growing up in New York City, Tremaine would spend long hours with an aunt who had a contemporary art collection that included paintings by abstract expressionists Piet Mondrian, Joan Miró and Wassily Kandinsky.

“I quite often didn’t understand the work, but I was always drawn to it,” Tremaine said. “She would drift off into a much more ethereal space and I totally understood on an intuitive, spiritual level where she was going. It felt like a language and a world that made more sense to me, and was more compelling, than a lot of the intellectual pursuits of New York City.”

Montana artist Diana Tremaine shows her work in a group exhibition at Big Sky’s Gallatin River Gallery that runs through Jan. 31.

The daughter of a stockbroker, Tremaine didn’t feel supported in her desire to pursue a degree in fine art, and felt pressured to choose a more “practical” course of study. But when she attended University of California, Berkeley, the only time she felt “truly turned on” was in the art building.

Tremaine eventually pushed past her father’s influence and transferred to University of California, Los Angeles, because the school had a stronger art program.

After 14 harried years in LA, juggling a teaching job, working in galleries and making art, Tremaine decided she needed more space and quietude outside of the expectations and pressures of being an artist in an urban cultural center.

In 2000, she moved to a red-roofed farmhouse on 20 acres in Gallatin Gateway, where she still resides.

“I was attracted by the rawness of [Montana],” Tremaine said. “I needed the raw side of life in order to tap into my own spirit on a deeper level.”

Her current work delves into the depths of contrast both visually and metaphorically. Her oil paintings explore the blurred edge between the representative and abstract and, in showing how the two styles can coexist, alludes to the whole spectrum of sentiments and personality traits that comprise what it means to be human.

“It doesn’t matter if I’m looking at a human, a horse, a bird … there are certain gestures, certain moods, certain traits that transcend species and unite us in our shared experience,” Tremaine said. “It can be the combination of strength, beauty, fear, vulnerability, power, loss, chaos—those characteristics that make us human.”

For Tremaine, it’s the tension between all of those qualities and finding a way for them to aesthetically complement one another that come through in her paintings.

One of Tremaine’s signature touches is to leave “holes” that expose the first layers of paint laid down on the canvas.

“I think every single mark you put on a canvas has an energy about it, whether it’s a directness, a timidity, a confidence, an anger—it communicates where you were at when you made them,” she said. “Maybe I don’t even know what was behind it, but it’s still there in the mark.”

In a day and age when social media and a sense of division dominate people’s lives, Tremaine feels that engendering connection—both with oneself and the world at large—is more important than ever.

“I think art has an important role in unifying,” she said. “I think we’ve lost sight of what connects us all—there’s a huge divide among people and an us-versus-them mentality. If a work of art moves you, takes your breath away, you realize you’re not alone in whatever feeling that painting brings up in you—it connects you with the artist and everyone else who has been affected by that painting.”

Tremaine is attracted to the liminal—neither here nor there—space and approaches the recurring theme through technique and subject. One painting called “Intrepid” depicts a man at three different phases of tumbling through an abstracted background of space. The figure’s state of freefall indicates Tremaine’s interest in the transitional period where, as the artist puts it, “you’ve jumped but haven’t landed, a moment of suspension where you don’t know what’s next.”

“When one is an artist you’re always in transition … if I felt like I nailed it every time, I wouldn’t keep painting,” she said. “As you get older you’re always getting more clear, closer to what matters to you and what doesn’t. There’s no finish line as an artist, you just try to remain committed to your own truth and really where you land is out of your control.”