By Helen Murphy and Nick Pelling
I think it was the naked, blue alien woman sitting on a skyscraper that prompted our interest. So, we headed for the Bare Bone gallery to talk to the artist behind the indigo virago. Susan Diamond is quite the very model of a neo-pop artist: she arrives wearing reflective blue shades, silver Doc Martens, ice-white hair and shocking scarlet lipstick and a punky jacket. She is in some ways her own work of art: almost a human brand.
Her solo-exhibition (entitled D.N.A.) at the Bare Bone gallery packs quite a punch. In this age of hyper-sensitivity about sexist imagery, Susan Diamond gives us wall-to-wall bare naked ladies. But, actually, that is not right: she gives us women with attitude, but without clothes. It is a defiant sort of nudity, in which men really don’t feature, sort of tapping into the tank-girl aesthetic. The work itself seems soaked in a punk palette of bright reds and psychotic blues. Some are pop flat and some are messy. Diamond is curiously eclectic even though her work has an instantly recognisable quality.
Susan Diamond with her work at Bare Bone gallery
CREDIT: Joanna Thurbon
But Suzie does not like her work to be pigeon-holed. “I just sort of start somewhere and try to let my imagination tell a story; it is not necessarily about my life but sometimes it is.” We wondered whether she thought her work was aggressive. She didn’t really seem to accept that. In fact, most of our attempts to put some sort of explanatory framework on the work met with an ambiguous “maybe.” But she was clear about how she came to spend so much paint on leggy women in screw-you shoes: she trained in fashion in Boston and her work is rooted in the disciplined practice of depicting the human form. We asked if the work was quite American – Susan is from Massachusetts – but she felt there was no conscious sense in which she employed Americana. Although she did accept that American pop art, and Warhol in particular, was an influence. “But probably more important to me was the work of Frieda Kahlo; the way she uses symbols.” But she also felt that borrowing too closely from an artist can be damaging for a creative person in their development: “there is the danger of becoming a sort of pale imitation.” (We wondered if there were such a thing as ‘tribute’ artists?)
Perhaps the Diamond City is nowhere in particular. It is instead an imagined urban landscape, splattered with the almost cliches of strip joints, syringes and neon make-up. This is a city of Diamond’s imagination. And though she clearly enjoys depicting this fantasy metropolis, it is also worth pointing that there is hard work behind the dreamscapes. Most of her work is on huge canvases. As she explained, “I am good at getting into the creative zone.” Even this extensive exhibition – expertly curated by the gallery owner Maddie Peterson – is only a fraction of her output. Diamond may seem to some extent a poseur (in the positive existential sense of making your identity anew each day) but behind the blue shades there is very definitely a ‘just do it’ mentality.
Her works as a whole seems very stylistically cohesive. And the gallery lends itself to the works: gallery goers descend a neon lit stairway to an exposed brick basement-cum-catacomb in which Diamond’s demi-monde seems perfectly echoed. Bare Bone is quite new to Hastings but it is certainly adding a new dimension to the town’s burgeoning art scene.
Some may still feel that the work recycles certain images of women that pander a bit to male tastes. But we were not all sure about that. Susan tells us that, “my work is far more frequently bought by women than men.” She certainly considered herself a feminist. Perhaps the work is ultimately in the tradition of cyber-punk women types who have taken the boys toys unto themselves. A tradition that stretches on film from Emma Peel in The Avengers to Uma Thurman’s ‘Bride’ in Kill Bill. To tell the truth, we found these thoughts very difficult to resolve. At the risk of sounding like an idiot, perhaps the best way to get some understanding of Diamond’s work is probably just to check out her work for yourself.
• There will be a Q&A event with Susan Diamond on March 15 from 7.00pm at Bare Bone gallery.
• The exhibition runs until 13 March at Bare Bone Gallery, Cambridge Gardens, Hastings. Susan Diamond’s work can be viewed at susandiamondartist.com
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