Artists on Coping: Diane Drescher

During the Coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.

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Highline Hotel, 2018

Diane Drescher‘s light filled landscapes straddle the line between traditional and modern. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and continued her art training at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Art Student’s League, and the National Academy in New York. A 10-year period of traveling to Europe to research design trends for fashion projects provided the opportunity to study the tradition of landscape painting in the museums of Paris and London. Inspired, she began refining her style using vivid colors, thick application of paint, and distinctive brushstrokes.

Highline 2, 2011

AS: How are you coping? Are you continuing your creative work?

DD: I was reeling from news in early March about the Coronavirus and wanted to get back to painting as soon as possible. It seemed vitally important to reassert my identity as an artist. And I needed to keep my hands busy and my mind off the bad news every day.

Bride Wore Black, 2015

AS: Has anything changed in your routine or approach? What matters most to you right now?

DD: My way back into painting is to focus on canvas prep. I’ve heard many times that an artist must prepare the canvas with care because this is when the real painting starts. Usually I’m impatient with the many steps: putting the stretcher bars together, stretching the canvas, applying rabbit skin glue, priming the canvas with two coats. I have an N95 face mask and a stash of disposable plastic gloves on hand for cleanup, but with these in short supply, they’re a reminder that what I’m trying to do seems superfluous–who am I to paint in a time like this?

Hopper On the Highline, 2012

AS: Have you had a show or creative opportunities canceled?

DD: In 2017 several artists decided to mount an exhibit on the theme of landscape. The group grew to twelve painters, and chose the title Light of Day, the Language of Landscape. I was honored to be a part of this; it was a great group with a common love for nature and landscape. Westbeth Gallery accepted our proposal, and Karen Wilkin, the eminent curator and critic, agreed to curate, write an essay, and give a talk. The opening was set for April 25, 2020. Everything was falling into place.

In early March the paintings were chosen and we began working on press. Then on March 11th, emails started coming in about cancellations and museum closings due to the coronavirus: the St. Patrick’s Day parade! The Met museum! It felt like an existential crisis: how can one invest so much time and energy in an event that might never happen? How important was an art show at a time like this? Within days all the artists weighed in and decided to postpone it.

The Conversation, 2007

AS: Can you describe some of your feelings about all this?

DD: My real awareness is about how fragile life is and how one must appreciate every little miracle that comes along each day. People in my life are reminding me of their love, faith and hope in surprising and generous ways.

Landscape With Magnolia Leaves, 2020

AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?

DD: History tells us that artists, even in the direst circumstances, keep working. Hans Hoffman told his students “the artist’s responsibility to society, especially during dark times, was to preserve, nurture, and glorify the human spirit.” Right now I feel my job is to stay healthy and continue painting. I’ve been cleaning out bad paintings from my racks to make way for new work. Perhaps a crisis sharpens one’s wits and discernment.

Last fall, I made several drawings and a large painting of a view from my window. It’s somber, of an empty school and playground on a cloudy day, and seems prescient now that schools are closed. No children playing, no school bells ringing, no jolly ice cream truck tune coming down the street. I continue to draw and paint this as a metaphor for these times.

A landscape painter, like a long-distance runner, understands social distance. Last week I went out with my easel in Fort Tryon Park and worked on a painting I began last fall. It was comforting to be at a familiar place. Perhaps getting started is the main thing right now. Indoors, I copy the Masters for inspiration, “to keep my brushes wet.” Walter Savage Landor wrote: “I love Nature and next to Nature Art.” They can put this on my tombstone. As long as I paint, I can deal with the inconvenience of grocery shopping and empty shelves. As long as I paint, I can believe that things will be alright.

Work in progress, 2020
Catherine Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer based in New York. She wrote the introductions to Meryl Meisler’s two books, and is currently working on an oral history about recent changes in photography.