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Beauty is—or ought to be—no big deal, though the lack of it is. Without regular events of beauty, we live estranged from all existence, including our own.

—Peter Schjeldahl
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Diane Fine offers regular events of beauty. As a printmaker and book artist she has steadily created art for the last decade and a half, producing a generous-spirited body of work that addresses age-old problems of the nature of being. Her investigations use a vernacular that appears disarmingly simple: the forms are bold, the colors dazzling, and no matter the scale her work has the feeling of being larger than life.
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Diane’s work explores the meaning of life, love and loss through signs and wonders. She has said: The images in my prints are about the poetry of solitude and memory. They are about the unnameable familiar and the beauty and comfort of rhythm and play. They are part of the human enterprise that asks fundamental questions in spite of the fact that true answers may not be forthcoming.
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Printmaking, as medium and as culture, is an intrinsic part of Diane’s artmaking and her identity as an artist. Putting ink on paper via etching, lithography, letterpress and relief is a vigorous, sensuous process. Edition printing demands a particular combination of physical stamina and intellectual dexterity; it is a discipline of controlled finesse. As a printmaker, Diane understands the seductive power of her medium, and shares with other practitioners of the craft a deep love for its rhythms, smells and tactile pleasures.
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As well as being influenced by the material culture of printmaking, Diane Fine has been deeply affected by two conspicuous aspects of its tradition: the production of multiples and collaboration. Making a matrix that can be used to produce copies is the essential feature of printmaking. Diane is attracted to the idea that in printmaking fecundity is splendid fact as well as useful metaphor. Collaboration in printmaking takes many forms. Diane has had numerous collaborative relationships with many different artists, and her commitment to the practice of collaboration is a reflection of how much she values connectedness and communication.
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Diane Fine studied printmaking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and received her M.F.A. in 1988. Since the fall of that same year she has been a faculty member of Plattsburgh State University of New York’s art department where she teaches printmaking and the book arts. In 1995 Diane received tenure and promotion to associate professor. Along with standard printmaking classes, she has developed and currently teaches an interdisciplinary women’s studies and studio art course. Professionally, Diane presents her work regularly and broadly at national conferences and exhibits. She has been a fellow at both the MacDowell Colony and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and has taught several summer workshops at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Tennessee. Among many notable services to her field, Diane co-curated a traveling exhibit and helped produce a catalog of the work of the influential printmaker, Joe Wilfer. In addition to being an outstanding teacher, Diane Fine is an important mentor to her colleagues and former students across the country who rely on her resourceful advice and problem-solving know-how.
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Most of Diane Fine’s collaborations have been focused on the production of books. She has worked collaboratively with a number of writers and artists and has had short-term, project-specific collaborations, as well as several ongoing, long-term relationships with individual artists. She has written and given talks about the nature of her collaborative work and its benefits. In general, her most fruitful collaborations have involved working one-on-one with a fellow artist in a process of mutual decision-making and side-by-side shared studio production.
Literature and the written word are sources of lasting inspiration for Diane. Her imaginative books are generally text-based and within the tradition of what is considered fine press work, yet the combination of inventive book structures and unusual design place her works squarely in the contemporary artist book field. Diane’s books are carefully designed for the reader/viewer and are notable for gracefully pairing unpredictable constructions and formats with clear and legible presentation. Diane Fine’s books have been exhibited widely—Forever and Ever is currently in the exhibit Women of the Book that has been touring the country to acclaim since 1997. Major institutions that have acquired Diane’s books include: the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, the Tate Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Scripps College, Yale University and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
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As strong as Diane Fine’s reputation as a book artist is, she is probably best known as a printmaker. The prints in this exhibit are in a variety of (often mixed) media; many are approximately 30 x 40 inches. These works were produced in serial groups over a period of ten years. The working method Diane has developed for these prints is to combine large bleed flats of monotyped color with etching plates, lithography, and relief blocks achieving a visually rich contrast between the dense abstract color field and a variety of rendered objects. The editions of these technically demanding prints are limited to no more than ten copies.
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In this ongoing series of prints, Diane Fine shows stylistic changes and varied intellectual pursuits, yet there are recurring themes that occupy the artist—an interest in nature expressed in the depiction of birds, seeds, earth and fire, and also a parallel interest in culture represented by particular devotional and domestic objects such as beds, books, and bowls—the sacred and profane. Diane delights in, and delights us with color, pattern, and decoration, though, with her large color fields and floating object compositions, there is a sense of spareness in her work that leaves room for imaginative wandering. Inversions of scale (the gigantic blue bird dwarfing surrounding objects in Fear Not) and odd juxtapositions (the planet Saturn, a single die, party hat, and other objects grouped together in Fear Not) that occur in Diane’s compositions are both humorous and disquieting.
Many of these prints were executed as Diane mourned the loss of her mother and faced the challenge of her sister Beth’s struggle with breast cancer. The artist’s grief and hope are recurring themes in these works. In an artist’s statement, Diane has said: We can go for quite some time feeling solidly in this world. That reality is shaken when we must say a permanent good-bye, the kind that comes with death, to someone we love. We help that person cross over to another world without letting go of a connection that is elastic and nourishing. Artmaking is a language I believe can be heard on the other side, a conversation continued, a way to sustain us.
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These concerns are apparent, for example, in the group of three prints: Keepsake, Heirloom, and Scorecard. Each is similarly composed of a single monochromatically rendered object (respectively, a wrapped gift, a mortar and pestle, and a pencil) which appears below an intaglio-printed rectangle filled with an inscribed pattern. Both Keepsake and Heirloom share a common thread, but where does Scorecard fit in this series? On reflection, it too is an object of record in the way that a keepsake records a treasured event and, as an heirloom, represents someone we love who has passed. The prints are about remembrance; they are memento mori. The pairing of the subject memorializing the deceased or the past with an object from daily life visually parallels the inscrutable fact of death with the everydayness of life. These are reflective works of lasting, longing resonance.
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Diane’s passion for artmaking extends throughout her life. For the last fifteen years she has printed a New Year’s keepsake for friends and family. For these gift pieces she uses image and text to produce small-scale and exquisitely printed objects that are much cherished by their recipients for their incisive beauty. These works are never sold, and seldom seen formally. I am pleased that Diane has chosen to show a few of them in this exhibit. They are indicative of her contributions to life’s need for beauty.

For one of these New Year’s cards she worked with this quotation from James Baldwin: Our crown is already bought and paid for, all we have to do is wear it. It is the nature of Diane Fine’s art to joyfully affirm this injunction.

—Tracy Honn, January 2000


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