How does a painter arrive at the definitive painterly style by which they are recognized by and understood in their essence and philosophy? Was Rembrandt’s an arbitrary choice to paint the human subject not as a static being, but a living entity, with flesh toned and ever changing in light and a mood that was as fleeting as time itself? Was Picasso’s manner something accidental by which, at the end of his career he painted the spirit of the form, the color, the vitality, the inner being itself, with complete abandon to anatomical correctness? Of course not, and any painter worthy of esteem and great merit will arrive at a painterly style, adaptable according to subject, that they have arrived at through a process of self-connecting with their personal essence and philosophy with the subject, and having matured over the course of many years, and many triumphant successes.
A Utah painter worthy of esteem and great merit, who has matured over the course of a good number of years and many triumphant successes, is Sean Diediker, and how he arrived at his recognizable and relatable style that conveys his essence and philosophy, is through a life of discovery and realization of that essence and philosophy.
The most recent of Diediker’s successes is the monumental 36”x 61” “Medicine Man,” which has recently been installed in the Springville Museum. In the painting, one can recognize that it is a painting by Diediker. How this is so is nothing arbitrary, and no accident on the part of Diediker, nor the viewer, but with a strong conviction to a definitive and manifest essence and philosophy made possible through a life of discovery and realization that has stayed its course and remained true, adaptable, yes, but only matured as Diediker has matured, making “Medicine Man” his most successful painting to date.
One of Diediker’s more recent works is a painting inspired by a camping trip with his daughter, titled “Fall.” The piece is a warm and nestled woodland scene of autumnal oaks as they shed their leaves. The leaves cascade from above in a hypnotic rhythm that at the same time, with the same hypnotic effect, seems to defy gravity and swirl around the subject of the painting, Diediker’s young daughter, who, with her hair tied up and in a flowing lilac skirt, seems to engage with the swirling leaves in a dance. There is a definite technique and abandon of exactitude and attraction to the soul of the subject, captured by the coarseness of brush, strokes in the tress, leaves, and the lilac dress and hair, and reality here seems malleable. The effect of abandon is apparently one that is the result of Diediker’s receptivity to the youthful spirit of his daughter and her capricious play. Her reality has conditioned the painting.
Diediker has responded to the conditions of his daughter, youth, innocence, ingenuity, beauty, on the eve of maturation, ripe with all possibility. On a universal level, and applicable to the painted subject, which in Diediker’s paintings are almost always people, the artist remarks, “I like to address conditioning of any kind, whether it is religious or geographic, I feel that conditioning dictates the decisions we make as human beings more than most of anything.”
A much earlier painting is an allegory, “The Condition No. 4.” This large scale painting, 42” x 70”, is a narrative par excellence, that reads from bottom to top, through a series of symbolic relationships. One must first learn that the apples that carpet the ground are the innumerable conditions that affect every stage of life, from conception to death, and beyond. This can be a physical condition, such as the kind of care given in childhood, emotional, such as the amount of care given in childhood, or spiritual, such as the quality of that care, and every other aspect that effects growth in the decision making processes of the individual. In the allegory, the young girl front and center, is a subject from life who is deaf. Diediker painted her with closed eyes as it is difficult to paint a symbol for deafness, yet she holds an apple in her hands, and her head is directed and peers earnestly upward, in transcendence of that condition. Her mother is behind her, and two women to either side make signs, with apples in hands, showing great emotion, expressive of the outpouring of love in this family unity, and the great hope for the future for this girl. Behind, in the middle plane, is a woman, nude, pale white, and one of the women in front, signing, holds an apple high while the pale women has her hand down as if in connection with this reality, yet she is only gesturing and signifies purity and is untainted by the conditions of life. The two large men that support her, to either side, hold their hands to their chests and in gestures of resigned acceptance, begin to collapse backwards with apples held high in their mouths… they, in khaki, are perhaps returned soldiers, deeply scarred by their conditioning. A slate blue curtain to the right is pulled aside as this painting holds secrets of truth the artist wishes to reveal and for the viewer to contemplate and internalize, as from life, as it’s subjects are from life and their stories, as all of Diediker’s subjects, are real and true.
Says Diediker, “When you’re painting real people and documenting people, it’s about taking the liberty to really explore a person and then document that person. When I am painting someone, this exists as a document of our connection of this space and time, and I like approaching it that way.” As conditioning becomes a part of Diediker’s understanding of the human experience and the subjects he paints are those that are lucidly alive within his sensibilities, a certain dimensionality manifests that is not a standard among artists, but is the standard for Diediker, and his subjects support a certain depth and animation within the picture plane.
“Kate” is painted entirely in one hue of blue, but with myriad tonalities, and she doesn’t need more than this to become lucidly alive to the viewer. Seeing this subject, one gets a sense of her reality, that there is something deeper here than simply a painting of a woman, but a representation with an understanding, a knowing, and an empathy that comes with a relationship that is authentic. Kate is no mere model but perhaps a sister, a friend, a romance, or some other of the many kinds of relationships that occur between human beings on all possible levels in all possible ways that are real and true. There is a connection and this can be seen in the essence of the painting.
“You get to know them and then the imagery just comes… its easy,” says Diediker. The reverse is also vital to the artist, and is an essential reason why he paints, travels, and has the keen interest in people and in life that he does. Through the act of painting, a level of understanding, knowing, and empathy develops, as Diediker learns about the individual as he paints, and the essence of the painting and the philosophy of the human experience becomes manifest in a human subject that might have lived 100 years ago.
Diediker was struck by an image he discovered that inspired “Medicine Man” from an antique photograph, recalling Diediker of his own heritage, as his grandfather established a trading post in northern New Mexico, where he and his mother’s family traded with the Navaho and “embraced them as their own.” As Diediker, in his own mind “reinvented” from this picture, he was able to understand, and to feel a connection with the man he was painting from a century ago, one of the many kinds of relationships that occur between human beings, enough to paint articulately what has come to be his own signature style, having self-connected with the personal essence and philosophy of the subject.
The viewer can see this in “Medicine Man” as Diediker paints with the his standard abandon to convention, and the concentration on the spirit of the subject. The environment in which the spiritual leader stands is abstracted and mystical; the landscape is a structure of emerald green, coral pink, and taupe browns, with the silhouette of a stranger looking up at the medicine man, who is in front of a hill and a cloud of gargantuan proportions. His shroud of black and white gives him much of his depth and definition, but his dimension is created by two primary elements that resonate spiritually. His eyes, that are painted in shadow, reticent yet piercing, are the eyes of a seer, and the handling of paint, which casts a layer of haze over the entire canvas, create an essential element of detachment; he occupies a different space and time, yet is connected by the spirit. His reality has conditioned the painting.