Dinah Worman: Basic Shapes
Inspired by the land and diagonal lines, Dinah Worman has established herself on the edge of contemporary Western art.
Dinah Worman recalls that when she was 4 years old, during a long recovery from an accident, her father built her a desk to fit over her bed—and she drew the things she saw around her. She refers to her drawing as “scribbling and then filling in the scribbling.” Today, an award-winning painter, she starts with a few slashes to establish the basic shapes and diagonals. “I go to another place, a little euphoric state. When it’s done, I stand back and say ‘Wow! I did that.’ Once I’ve drawn in the basic shapes and diagonals I drop in with fat paint using brushes and palette knives and work it until it’s right, sometimes roughing up the flat areas.”
She studied art and did commercial work before turning to painting her experiences of the landscape— not necessarily the landscape in front of her. “I want to paint from my eyes back rather than from my eyes forward,” she says. “My interpretation is more important to me than the scene itself.”
She was first accepted into the Coors Western Art Exhibit and Sale in 2011. In 2013 she was “driving just east of Enid, Oklahoma, and as I looked at the landscape,
the roads looked as if they were running straight up and there were diagonal lines for ranchers to get over to another hill. If you didn’t know the reality you would have thought that roads were like ribbons cut out and laid on the landscape.” It was the beginning of her “stacked landscapes.”
“There’s something about seeing something that moves you enough to pull off the road and paint or photograph it,” she says. “That experience outside of Enid was a shift in the way I looked at things. I can be attracted by a certain light or a certain scene. I’ve even driven off the road and had to be pulled out. I always have a camera with me. Lately, I’ve been taking old photographs and reimagining them.
“You get a lot of pressure from what you’re selling and I was tired of doing the same old thing—like realistic landscapes. When something sells well, we can get in a fix. I also have an overdeveloped sense of meeting expectations,” she explains. “I needed to loosen up. I was painting with a group of artists here in Taos—people I respect—and when they saw the first stacked painting they were shocked, but they loved it. I really put it out there. I’d always done art but this made me realize there’s something within me that’s more important than what I learned in different art situations. You need to go with who you are.”
She sent her first stacked painting to Coors in 2013. It won best of show. She has been included in each subsequent show and, in 2017, she was its featured artist.
Sometimes the scenes are, indeed, flat—the side of a red barn with a cow peering out of its dark interior. “The colors are fun,” she says, “and there’s a facetious quality to the cows with their plaintive look. But I don’t want to be another Southwest artist who does cute.”
Worman moved to Taos 22 years ago after the death of her husband. She had been “primed with great Southwest art” when her parents moved to Oklahoma and they visited the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa. In Taos she fell in love with the paintings of Ernest Blumenschein, whose work she finds more visceral than that of his fellow members of the Taos Society of Artists. At first it seems surprising that she also admires Francis Bacon, Clyfford Still and Richard Diebenkorn but, then, it makes sense. The Ocean Park paintings of Diebenkorn also resemble stacked landscapes and his practice of scraping and layering and leaving the history of the painting in its composition finds echoes in her new work. “I like seeing the progression of his work,” she comments. “He grew in different ways but he maintained his integrity. I kept getting tight and now I’m scratching back and building up and scratching back again.”
She admires Still’s abandoning caution and using tar at one point in his career. John Updike writes in his poem Gradations of Black (Third Floor, Whitney Museum):
While Clyfford Still, in his tall Untitled, has laid on black in flakes of hardening tar, a dragon’s scales so slick the viewer’s head is mirrored, a murky helmet, as he stands waiting for the flame-shaped passion to clear.
Arrangements of Barns VI, oil, 30 x 24". Courtesy Trailside Galleries, Scottsdale, AZ, and Jackson Hole, WY.
Above: Band of Light, oil, 60 x 48". Courtesy the artist. Left: One Cow, One Bird, oil, 12 x 12". Courtesy Trailside Galleries, Scottsdale, AZ, and Jackson Hole, WY.
Purple Canyon, oil, 20 x 24". Courtesy the artist.