We had the good fortune of connecting with Ellen Dieter and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ellen, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I have always considered myself a risk taker. From the time I was a child, until even now. Aside from answering these questions, which I find somewhat risky, here are some examples. When I was ten or eleven, my parents were looking at houses, we were going to move. One of the places they looked at had a very tall pine tree in the backyard and that tree was on the edge of a bluff. I climbed to the top of it. Needless to say, that is not the house my parents chose. In my late teens, after high school and some college, I went to Europe with $100 in my pocket. I had no idea where I would stay or what I would do. I ended up staying over a year as an au père with a lovely family, and after returning to the states for a brief period, I went back, worked as a model, and then married a Frenchman. I lived in Paris for over 10 years. The first year of our marriage, I went on an African safari, without all the proper paperwork. I was told I could get some of it “sur place”. That proved to be false and I had to leave the people I was traveling with. We were at the border of Algeria and Niger. I hitch hiked north, alone, through the Sarah Desert to get back to Paris. It was a blast, though, I can say for sure I would not do that today! In my art, in the beginning, I do not believe I was such a great risk taker. I painted pretty traditionally. Using oils. I painted somewhat abstracted landscapes. I just loved colors and shapes and pushing the oil paints around, even though it was in a tentative and sparing way. Risk came into play when I yearned to paint larger. I put up a 6’x4′ canvas, looked at the small tubes of oils and the small paint brushes, and thought, that won’t work. I pulled out some old acrylics I had, some house paint and some house paint brushes and went to town. I loved it! Big brush strokes, paint dripping everywhere, chaos! so so so much fun. I pulled out some crayons, and markers, pastels, and collage material, everything went into the paintings. It was called my “What’s Left Behind” series. They were breakthrough paintings for me. Soon after that, I worked in collaboration with two other artists, Shahla Dorafshan and Richard Messenger. We painted together once a week for two years. We painted always on the same surface and at the same time. We painted over each others work all the time. I learned to let go, and that I could always redo something, and it was ok to take risks and possibly “ruin” a painting. The process of taking risk seemed to always make it better. Today, I continue to take risks in my art, but in my life, I may be less inclined to take the risks I used to take. I am, however, more than willing to put myself out there, to put my paintings out there, to do dance videos while painting and post them on social media for the world to see. I am willing to throw paint on canvas blindfolded, to have my grandsons paint and mark make on my work, to completely change a painting from the direction it may be going. Having an outlet for risk taking on the canvas, is huge for me. I find it very cathartic.
Please tell us more about your art. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
Life and art is a series of ups and downs, starts and stops, belief and non belief. I mentioned that I have had great support, but that doesn’t always help the inner demons that like to tell me I am no different or that I am any good at what I do. In fact, “au contraire”, they like to tell me that I am undeserving and that I have no clue what I am doing. “Who do I think I am kidding!?!” they say. I know I am not different in this thinking. Many people and artists share this same struggle. For me, it is a one day at a time thing. The best remedy for me, for these thoughts, is putting paint to canvas. I have been painting full time since 2008. I have so many hours of practice under my belt. I may not know how to paint like someone else, but I sure know how to paint like me. And that, is huge. When I am painting, the thoughts go away. There is no room for them as I am making more important decisions. What color? line or form? add this or take away that? I go through a period of painting where I am not thinking too much, the play stage, but in the end, it is all about choice and my brain is engaged along with my soul. Does this feel good? oh, I am not crazy about that, take it out! Let’s see what happens if I do this? How can those demons fight that? It is not about how good or bad it’s about how does it feel, what story can I tell, even if it is an abstract tale. In that, maybe I am a bit different than some. I have learned how to let go, and paint like me. I am continuing learning and relearning how to not judge myself against other artists that I deem “better than”, or more advanced. But that is a hard one. We are all on our own path, some ahead, some behind and some in the same place. Our goals can be similar, or very different. For me, my biggest lesson is accepting who I am and where I am in my career. Being able to share my story, my inner self, is my biggest personal accomplishment. Having been in multiple shows at Oceanside Museum of Art and also, very recently being recognized by Saatchi Art are big career accomplishments for me. I am deeply grateful for all the shows and awards I’ve been in and received. Humbled really. What I would want the world to know about me and my story, is that I just keep showing up and doing the work. I could not have predicted that I would be where I am today, so I will not try to guess where I will go. I am sure it will be great though, and I hope you can follow along and even join in with my journey.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I do have some favorite places that I like to visit when going to LA. The City sure does not lack for entertainment! One of my favorite things to do is go to Culver City the night of Art Walks. I was fortunate enough to have a show up there many years ago. I also enjoy LACMA and go as often as I can. Going to the Getty Museum is another favorite, between the exhibits and the architecture of the museum and the grounds, one cannot go wrong. A full day there is perfect, including eating at any of their restaurants. For a day of people watching a trip to Venice Beach is always a must, and Santa Monica Pier is ideal to. Having a burger and watching the sunset, heaven. My favorite thing about any city is just walking the different parts of the city, people watching, and ducking into a cafe or restaurant when hungry or thirsty. LA is great for all that.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There are so many people I give a ShoutOut to. Let me start with my parents. Without their support and encouragement, I don’t know where I would be today. From the time I was small up until the decision to major in art, and forever after, they were by my side. It was my parents that put me in my first art class at the Cleveland Museum of Art when I was five. I knew then than I wanted to be an artist. My high school teacher Mr. Hoffman, was a super hero to me. He taught me the basics and to believe in myself. My community, San Diego, has been a great support. From the San Diego Art Institute to different galleries and venues in San Diego to the Oceanside Museum of Art, I have felt recognized and appreciated. The artists of San Diego, I call my friends. They have supported me, befriended me and some are collectors as well. They have also greatly inspired me and taught me so much. I feel I have been very fortunate in my career. The galleries that represent me, Adelman Fine Art Gallery, Cedar Street Galleries in Honolulu, Fresh Paint Gallery and Art’nSoul on 101 have been beneficial supporters, selling my work, getting it out there. Alexander Salazar Fine Arts invited me to do his artist in residency, a great jump start to my career, thank you. I give a Shout Out to The Old Globe Theatre, where I worked as a scenic artist, among other positions. They hired me when I knew nothing about painting sets. Just another example of risk taking (me applying for a job I didn’t know how to do) and an example of people believing in me. A ShoutOut to the many curators I have worked with, Wes Chester, Kay Colvin, Kate Ashton, Tim Field, Jennifer Borba von Stauffenberg, Barbara Thoulion, Julie Weaverling, to name a few. A Shout Out to the many jurors who have chosen and awarded works, with special mentions to Robert L. Pincus, Peter Frank, and Maria Mingalone. I have a special Shout Out to the people of the Oceanside Museum of Art, especially Maria Mingalone, Katie Dolgov and Larry Vogel. I am a member of the OMA Artist Alliance and through them, I was chosen to have a solo exhibit at the museum in 2017-2018 Color, Joy, Shape, Vitality. This was the highlight of my career so far. I could not have predicted that I would have my work in a major museum when I started. I am forever grateful for all that have helped me and shaped me into the person/artist that I am. My family, my loved ones, my friends and colleagues, you know how you are, My list is not complete, I apologize if I failed to mention you, you are in my heart and soul. Mahalo.