Her second best creation: How a baby taught a mother to see anew [TWO GUNS ART SHOW]
by Mark McDermott
Carrie Dietz Brown has always painted home. Her paintings from recent years vary widely by subject but share some key elements — cakes and coffee and turntables and records and flowers and potted plants, dishes over there in the sink, guitars and ukes and even an occasional banjo as well as quilts and blankets and cool lamps on even cooler lamp stands and, maybe most importantly, friends, usually dark-haired women, sitting together sharing a book or a look or a talk over a cup of tea. Sometimes someone else is over there in the corner, maybe cradling an instrument with a pile of sheet music at her feet. Almost always there is an indifferent cat somewhere on the scene. But they are all together, usually in a warmly-wrought room, sometimes outside in a garden or on a pacific coast under the presence of a dramatic moon. What binds it all together is it’s all homey, or at least in Dietz Brown’s sense — she is a musician as well as a visual artist — of what a home is.
“There’s a lot of repetition,” Dietz Brown said. “I’ve spent a lot of time in my life at home — I’m definitely a homebody, but home has always been filled with people and music and plants and cats.”
Then along came a true expert at being home. Her son Francis, who will be a year old this week, rejiggered his mother’s vision of pretty much everything. He taught her how to really be at home, and what a world of wonders any simple room or backyard (or any place at all) can be.
“I’ve always been an advocate for the power that comes with quiet, calm and peace, and how that is not a weak, fleeting thing,” Dietz Brown said. “It’s a pretty challenging thing to get going with yourself. I think I had an abstract idea of what that meant to me, but — especially with the new work this past year — Francis retaught me what that means. Which was pretty bitchin’. I mean, I’ve never made more art than I have since Francis was born.”
Dietz Brown is a prodigious artist, churning out new work with a kind of effortless effort all while working as a full time music teacher at her family’s business (what her father, Pat, calls “the family farm”), Dietz Brothers Music. But in the past year she flipped the convention often expressed by artists who become mothers for the first time — “I have no time!” — on its head. Despite rarely sleeping more than a couple hours at a time, and despite the constant attention a toddler requires (actually, because of it), she produced 40 new works of art.
The baby helped liberate her as an artist. Once she looked in Francis’ eyes, and watched him encounter the world, the pressure was off.
“Him showing up totally reinfused and reintroduced what creating means to me,” she said. “One, I am never going to make anything more interesting than him, so it sort of freed me to loosen up and have more confidence and to sort of revel in his weirdness and magic. Then, watching him sort of rediscover — or really, just discover — the ordinary as something so fantastic and intricate totally blew my mind and reopened all my ideas about quiet and ordinary having so much power.”
It also put Dietz Brown in her place in the most reassuring of ways. The Dietzs arrived in Manhattan Beach in 1938; they’d been farmers in North Dakota, but family lore has it that when Merle and Patty Dietz first drove down Rosecrans Avenue and arrived at the ocean, he pronounced that it was the first time in his life he’d ceased to itch and thus declared this place home. His grandaughter has painted myriad iterations of this place as home in a way that is in keeping with the comfort Merle found 80 years ago.
There was a moment when Francis was six months old when his mother saw her place in world in a new, yet very old way. He was crawling around the yard at his grandparents’ home, which had once been their parents home.
“Watching him trying to pick up a pine needle on the ground in the same space I watched my grandma steal fruit off the neighbor’s tree sort of redefined, for me, what it is to be connected to the past, and the future that I won’t be a part of,” she said. “Which was incredibly comforting, and magical…It’s just really meaningful. I just try to put that into the color and content and stories and spaces of my paintings.”
“Francis has made the world seem infinitely more interesting. It has connected me with people I thought were gone for good and it has extended this idea of the future without me. All of this is tied in with the ordinary stuff, which is being at home with him, and being in my parents’ backyard with him, or eating an orange, or whatever. And that seemed like an interesting thing to make a painting about.”
Much of this new work will be unveiled at a show opening Thursday night at Suite 6, the new art gallery that is part of Two Guns Espresso shop on Goat Hill in Manhattan Beach. Two Guns is fast becoming an espresso empire in the South Bay, opening shops in North Manhattan and El Segundo as well as its new art gallery. Co-owner Natalie Stanisich said bringing art to Sepulveda Boulevard was something that hadn’t occurred to her until they’d acquired the space next door to Two Guns with the idea of opening a retail shop. She and her husband and co-owner, Andrew (better known as “Stan”), were painting the place when it occurred to her that its north wall would make a terrific art gallery.
“We wanted to do a plant store and a gift shop and sell our own Two Guns merchandize, coffee brewing equipment and other cool things we’d seen on our travels we hadn’t seen in the South Bay,” she said. “Stan and I were actually painting it ourselves, and I looked at that big wall and said to him, ‘This should be an art gallery for local artists.’ The whole process was really organic.”
Dietz Brown is as local an artist as you will find — she grew up within a half mile of the gallery, and the “family farm”, i.e. the music store, is few blocks away. But more importantly she’s a local artist whose work is so inventive and unique that she seems destined to show her work far and wide.
“She is exceptional,” said Stanisich, who titled the show “From Dawn to Dusk” based on the light, sort of an enchanted glow, and color palate within Dietz Brown’s work. “I choose the art and the artists myself. For me, it’s not just anybody; they have to have really good artistic merit, really good value, and have art that sits well in the space. That’s what I think Carrie’s art does — the plants and the decoration of the space, it fits her aesthetics. It’s a really harmonious feeling in there now…. Carrie’s work is really special.”
Dietz Brown studied drawing and painting at the University of California Long Beach. Her work has shown in San Francisco, New York, and in Los Angeles. She cites influences far beyond visual art, including musicians such as The Breeders and Bob Dylan, as well as “weird surrealist women” like Leonora Carrington and Agnes Martin. More than anything, however, she’s been inspired by her own family, including her parents, Pat and Carol, and sisters Robin (with whom she was in the rock band Foot Foot) and Kelly.
“Robin’s lyrics and just Kelly as a concept,” Dietz Brown said. “She’s like a real gardener. Kelly is the type of person who is just good at stuff. She’s a woman who knows how to be at home, as far as cooking and gardening and reading and writing.”
Music and painting are intertwined for Dietz Brown. Many of the paintings, and particularly their titles, come from lyrics to her songs. “I’ll be out back listening to Dylan with the cat. There’s a peach pit and a Fitzgerald paperback,” is the title of one such painting, which could be described as a backyard pastoral. “The House Remembers Them as a Chorus and a Verse” is another title, for a painting showing two women — one reading a book, another holding a cat — on the wraparound front porch of a intricately drawn house encircled by an abundant garden of flowers.
“What is better than painting and music? I just feel any time I’m getting to work on either of those, it’s the best,” Dietz Brown said. “Those are very connected to me in that I just love them both so much.”
“A lot of those lyrics don’t become songs, just things written down, things I’d presume to use for something,” she added. “The title is an opportunity to make the painting weirder. If it’s looking too square, you slap on a weird title, and it feels great.”
She works in watercolors and a more heavily pigmented type of watercolor known as gouache. Some of the paintings — like the aforementioned — are larger, and depict worlds unto themselves (sometimes actual worlds, multicolored homey sort of globes); the more you look the more you see. Some show perhaps 50 different seemingly unrelated items, with tiny scribblings — “Open E” next to a pocket watch, “7 Songs” by a jug of wine. The more recent work is more elemental, still lifes and abstractions. It’s partly a function, she said, of painting during naptime. But it’s also the fact that life with baby Francis is more elemental. When he spies a hummingbird in the backyard his focus is entire. Who is more fully present than a newborn babe?
Dietz Brown’s artistic gaze has always looked at the wonder within the quotidian. That gaze has turned almost holy, the light within it immanent, with the arrival of her child. A past show of hers in San Francisco referenced a line by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, “I live my life in widening circles.” The revelation within her work is those circles can exist in the same place you’ve lived all your life.
“People get mixed up with ordinary and conventional. To me, when you are walking around day-to-day, that is when you are getting your mind blown, whether it’s good or bad,” Dietz Brown said. “Conventional to me is the expected and the boring. Ordinary is when you are given the chance to create something interesting. You don’t take a vacation from ordinary life to have interesting things happen.”
What unifies her past and present work, all of which will be on display at Suite 6, is articulated in her artist’s statement describing a focus on “empowering the quiet and slanting the familiar.”
“In college, there was a real push to make art that was really bold and really loud. I pushed back,” Dietz Brown said. “No dude. I love art like that, loud and disruptive, the same way I like loud, crazy music. But you make art about the stuff you know about, and what I know about is what it is to be in a space and see the magic, about trying to make an interesting life with what’s around me. And what is around me is cake.”
“From Dawn to Dusk” shows at Suite 6, 350. N. Sepulveda Blvd., for the next month. An artist’s reception, with music by Pat Dietz, takes place April 12 from 6 to 8 p.m. See CarrieDietzBrown.com for more information and more of the artist’s work. ER