Here I work outside and let the city’s nature, light, and climate change my work.
— Dinah Diwan

Interview by Amanda Quinn Olivar, West Coast Editor

Born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon, Dinah Diwan left for Italy in 1975 when the civil war broke out, then joined her family in France. Trained as an architect, she graduated cum laude from ENS-Paris La Villette. She created her own studio in Paris where, for 20 years, her practice as an architect has included residential and commercial projects in France, Tunisia and United states.   Alongside her professional commissions, Diwan has been a painter and ceramicist. In the 1990s, she started experimenting with paint, creating collages with illegible writing on paper, canvas, fabrics, and frosted glass. Her art also deploys overt references to architectural elements, such as city grids, gardens and maps. Diwan’s work has been exhibited at the Galerie Esther Woerdehoff in Paris, Rumba’s gallery in Los Angeles, and more recently at the 2017 Beirut Art Fair. She participated in a project called Archisable that is currently shown at the Cité de L’Architecture et du Patrimoine in Paris. Since 2012, she lives and works in Los Angeles, California.

What was the aha moment that led you to art... and did Los Angeles play a part in your career decision?

During my childhood in Beirut I developed a craving for the smell of freshly sharpened colored pencils and piles of papers. My sister and I used to make notebooks by recuperating scrap papers at the print shop across our house. We held competitions, and challenged each other to always produce new drawings. I quickly understood that this game would be a lifelong commitment for me.

How has living in LA informed your approach and aesthetic? 

I moved my 200 sq. ft Parisian studio to Los Angeles in 2012. Before this new Californian period, I have always worked on small canvas, with pieces that I could bring in my purse wherever I went. The new scale, climate, light and geographies of LA have modified this process. For the first time I allowed myself to take space with my art. I started assembling pieces of canvas to create larger ones, but always conceiving them as foldable and portable objects in case I had to travel. Here I work outside and let the city’s nature, light and climate change my work. I used to think it would be difficult to work outdoors as the light differs from inside, making it challenging to see what the piece actually looks like, but it actually creates a fascinating instability that always surprises me.

How to live, think and work in this constantly dilating space-time, to go from faster—freeway speed—to slower—writing rhythm? From vast—greater Los Angeles, sky, ocean, mountains—to local—neighborhood, house, garden, the folks next door?

Moving to Los Angeles was not only a change of scale, but also a change of pace. In order to get a sense of this new rhythm and landscape, I have mapped out my mental representation within the city of Los Angeles by travelling in all the corners of the city and reporting my personal appropriation of LA via wandering journey book: Los Angeles: OVERwriting in underDRIVE, published for my first show in LA, 03/2016.

When and how did you first feel embraced by our LA art community?

As soon as I moved here, I immediately felt like I was part of an artist community in my neighborhood. I had my first solo show two blocks away from where I live and work.

Dinah Diwan
Behemoth, Los Angeles, 2017
Inkjet impression on silk/organza
68.6 x 116.8 cm
27 x 46 in
Edition of 4
Photo: © Dinah Diwan
Courtesy of the Artist

The exhibition speaks about the vitality of our art community. Which pioneering LA artist influenced you the most? And whose work do you find intriguing right now?  

My very first month in LA back in 2012, I met Huguette Caland. Her large but yet intimate work has shown me how personal narratives could be articulated on a bigger canvas. Her process intertwined with her independence have made me think about my own position as a woman artist. I feel extremely connected with her mindset which could be summed up by one tip she gave me, “Shape your life around your work so that you constantly have a pencil in your hand.”

I am extremely taken by John Chiara’s work and his understanding of LA. He has completely absorbed the DNA of the landscape. He creates tools and processes that nourish my perception of the light and the space.

What is your favorite art accident?

When I work outside I use spray paint on my canvas. Quickly I noticed how the wind modifies the trajectory of the spray, at first I fought it, now I consider the wind part of my work. Once I discovered this unexpected outcome, I started leaving my canvas outside overnight. All the elements such as the wind, humidity, dust, and rain suddenly became essential tools for me.

Dinah Diwan
Overwriting 3, 2017
85 pages of paper and ink on canvas
119.4 x 241.3 cm
47 x 95 in
Photo: © Dinah Diwan
Courtesy of the Artist

How They Ran
Over The Influence
August 12 - September 5, 2018