TSKC contributor Alyssa Yeoman interviews Dinah Juergens!
The concept of red has plagued me my whole life. A color, a movement, the endless symbolism in seemingly opposing emotions. Red first my mind goes to romance. Thinking of moments when time collapses and promising yourself that you will never meet anyone who’s quite as important as the only person you can see right now. The deep affection that stirs you to reach new heights. This moment swiftly takes a turn as my thoughts on red turn to one’s more grounded in reality. Tangible times when people hurt me. The anger pulsating from the depths of my belly into my chest.
The expression of red always resonates most with me in visual arts. I grew up with love for painters and their ability to recreate their vision in away that takes no sound, creating movement where there is none and conquering the task of capturing relationships. The relationship between that’s within the painting and the one between the painter and the painted.
I first met Dinah about two years ago, at an open mic when dating a friend of mine. Her energy stood out to me as woman who’s unapologetically herself. A truly magnetic spirit who has found her love in painting with no intentions of giving it up.
Dinah is a painter from Florida by way of Arizona. She found herself in Seattle four years ago after selling a painting for $500 in Tucson. When Dinah sold that painting she figured it would be worth more in a city where people made more money.
Dinah’s approach to painting is unique as she describes her creative heros as those who find talent irrelevant. Instead she honors the artists who find success and fulfillment in a career that involves doing the work and to keep doing the work. Dinah follows Maria Bamford’s mantra of “do the work” and we can see that in her from a young age. This way of working makes sense to Dinah, reassuring her throughout her own painting career.
When did you discover painting? What was that like for you?
I have always felt very reverently toward paintings. My great grandma was a painter and my mom and grandma had a lot of her work hanging up at their houses. I would paint secretly as a kid. I cared so deeply about being good at it and felt very fragile and vulnerable to criticism so I didn't share or talk about my work with anyone. I don't even think it's fair to call it 'my work' at that point because I was just nervously figuring things out. It wasn't until the end of my senior year of high school that I took a painting class and I remember the teacher told me 'I wish we had found you earlier' and that was the perfect tiny bit of encouragement that I needed to hear. After that my confidence grew gradually and I spent more and more time painting and drawing. When I was twenty I left school for a little bit and didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I spent a lot of time drinking and eating croissants and I also painted the first painting of mine that I unabashedly and immediately 'liked.' After that I decided to go back to school and study painting. It is the only pursuit that I am seriously and confidently committed to for life, and it often acts as a good base to build the rest of my life around.
More than a creative career, how can you describe what painting means and fulfills for you?
I think of painting as an abstract form of communication between the painter and viewer and I love that you can get away with communicating things that you wouldn't be able to say in words. I often feel like my portraits almost embarrassingly reveal how I feel about the person I am painting.
I like to make paintings of familiar people or things that are cast in a different light once they are abstracted into art. It is satisfying to engage with people in a confusing or silly or emotional way. Painting nude portraits can get you into a lot of awkward conversations, and sometimes the things we feel most awkward about are the most potent for growing emotionally or knowing ourselves better. I hope. At the very least, it is not boring.
When deciding on what direction to go in terms of a painting—what colors come up the most? Do you paint your mood? Or is it an effort to capture the essence of the person or thing you are painting? I've noticed in a lot of your works there's a level of simplicity but each time I revisit a painting you've done, I've noticed something new!
I paint portraits in an expressive style and I encourage my sitters to be as nude as they are comfortable being. It is usually my first and foremost goal to capture a likeness of the subject. Inevitably though, what I think about the person and how I am feeling about what agreement we made or whether they even know that I am painting them all ends up going into the work. I take it as a very serious responsibility to treat my subjects respectfully, which can be a hard thing to do when I have negative feelings about someone I'm painting or if I'm feeling financially stressed. I often feel creepy because I am in a basement, staring at a nude reference photo of my subject night after night. I think it is hilarious that this is the actual job that I have given myself.
I usually have a basic color scheme worked out before I start a painting so that I can do an under-layer in opposite colors. As I get into later layers though I will play colors against each other in smaller areas. It seems like no matter what color scheme I'm working with, I always find myself needing to mix lavenders and light greyish-blues.
How has your painting evolved? In which ways do you expect or hope for it to evolve?
Lately, I have been getting a lot better at the parts of painting that aren't painting. I am always building better panels and giving more realistic time estimates on how long paintings will take. I'm chronically terrible at finishing projects. I will do 90% of a painting in a couple months and then drag out the last 10% for, literally, years. But I am getting better at shortening that time or at least being more honest and aware of how I work so that I'm not beating myself up about it when things take time. I like to work on multiple pieces that all go together at once, so that I can switch between paintings and have enough time to think about how each one progresses without rushing anything.
Our whole issue is about RED— the color, the concept. What initially comes to mind when you hear or see red?
I feel like I am supposed to have negative associations with the color red—about anger or danger or being wrong—that I don't actually have. More than anything else, red gets your attention, which is a very useful tool. My friend and fellow artist Lee Davignon likes to remind me of the three rules of sculpture: first, make it big; second, if you can't make it big, make it red; third, if you can't make it red, make it shiny.
What has red meant to you in life? Are there areas of your life that you can clearly identify as being red? Which ones?
Right now, I use the color red most often as the base layer when I am painting foliage. The final color you end up seeing is a rich deep green. As a woman who bleeds every month, red comes up a lot in a similar symbolic way, as a concentrated and fertile substance secretly fueling what people see.