Diehl continues to explore the innumerable dimensions and possibilities of the still life, his subject of inquiry for the last three decades. This long-term investigation has yielded a rich and nuanced range of results that have, in turn, culminated in a singular understanding of realism. It has also solidified his confidence in his own artistic intuition. Diehl explains that, unlike his younger self, he now trusts in the natural evolution of his practice and the tendency for one inspiration to precipitate another.
Books endure as important formal and compositional anchors across this work; their carefully articulated titles also give viewers more to see and reference while taking in a painting. Some marked changes, however, are also evident. Diehl has introduced more geometric forms—such as bottles, blocks, spheres, and boxes—and shifted the lighting to include more refractive light and dramatic highlighting. The colors have become more saturated and jewel-like while the increased shadow-play has heightened the formal interaction between objects. The atmosphere too displays a newfound drama reminiscent of seventeenth-century Dutch and Spanish still life painters.
Much like words, each object in Diehl’s paintings can be considered in relation to another object, whether a vessel, postcard, book, or talisman. Each combination is subsequently open to a myriad of interpretations, and Diehl is pleased when viewers draw connections or see meanings that he himself had not considered. As his work is first and foremost “art about art,” the lynchpin of his paintings is their references to other artworks. Modernism has been a recurring theme for him for many years and is celebrated again in Still Life with Robert Delaunay #2–1919-2013 (2013), which marks the centennial of Modernism and the 1913 Armory show in New York. A number of other paintings in the exhibition also reference important Modernist artists—such as Piet Mondrian, Giorgio Morandi, and Robert Delaunay—who each uniquely embody the revolutionary convergence of visual art, music, science, and psychology that erupted at the beginning of the 20th century. Diehl channels this confluence of events and ideas on a smaller scale through the networks of connections created within his paintings.
Instead of reproducing an artist’s most iconic work, Diehl tends to select lesser-known pieces just beyond the artist’s mainstream oeuvre. Such an approach fosters inquiry and engagement by exposing viewers to the unfamiliar and encouraging them to ask questions not only about the art presented, but also about the nature of art in general. In addition to more esoteric works, Diehl often features lesser-known artists as well. Still Life with Bill Traylor and Robert Johnson (2012), for example, places two underappreciated American artists into dialogue: Robert Johnson, an itinerant blues musician who revolutionized guitar-playing, and Bill Traylor, a former slave and self-taught artist who began painting in his mid-80s. Not only were both men artistic pioneers, they also lived extraordinary lives marked by struggle and racial discrimination.
Bill Traylor appears in a second painting featured in “A Dialogue with Tradition.” There is something very primitive and naïve, and yet impossibly intuitive and masterful about Traylor’s depiction of a dog that Diehl limns for Still Life with Bill Traylor (2012). This and other works radiate a joy and honesty that, for Diehl, moves them as close as one can get to approaching art as it’s meant to be. The choice of Traylor also produces an interesting relationship since the older artist’s simple naturalism, while not objective in and of itself, suddenly becomes so through Diehl’s realistic rendering. The implications and repercussions of this and other subtle, unexpected dynamics are precisely what Diehl wants his viewers to ponder.
Diehl was born in 1949 in Pittsburgh, PA. He earned his BA from California State University Hayward in 1973 and his MA from San Francisco State University in 1976. Diehl has exhibited extensively across the United States and at select international galleries, and was the 2005 recipient of Biennial Exhibition Award, Sonoma Valley Museum of Art. His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the San Jose Museum of Art, and the Oakland Museum of California. This will be his second solo show at the Dolby Chadwick Gallery.