S&H editor Ben Nussbaum chatted with Deedee about her spiritual journey and how it intersects with her art, simplicity, and why images of mothers are so important to her.
How do you see the connection between spirituality and art?
Deedee: I struggled for a long time to reveal my authentic self. I feel like that’s so much of what blocks people in their creativity—to be totally vulnerable—and to make imagery that you have a strong connection to, and that tells a story and allows you to show a lot of yourself and put yourself out there. That’s a lot of what blocks people from ever making art. So my spiritual path really intensified when I decided I wanted to become seriously invested in my art process. I remember being completely overwhelmed. I had been a smoker, and I was trying to quit smoking, and I was in my studio and I wasn’t sure what to make and riddled with fear about revealing anything about myself and that my ideas would be stupid. I had watched a movie, Grizzly Man, about a guy who goes into the woods and bonds with bears. I got this idea about the bear being this insatiable creature that always has all these needs. And the Buddhist concept that to desire is to suffer, and we’re constantly in a state of desire and wanting something outside of ourselves instead of being able to truly be in ourselves.
So I just started painting this head of a bear roaring. While I was in this period of creative block, I just sat there and painted eight or ten bear heads growling. It became this image that people remember my art with, and people relate to it—the insatiable bear sort of idea. For me, that’s sort of where the spirituality connects with the art. At the same time I was starting a daily meditation practice. Part of it was walking meditations or hiking meditations. I feel like that’s where my career started to blossom, when I got out of my own way.
What year was that—that you started to do the bear paintings?
2007, I think.
They’re beautiful images. Like so much of your art, it seems like they’re illustrations from some kind of folk tale. They invite people to fill in the story. What’s it like for you when people interpret these images?
I enjoy hearing other people’s interpretations of my work. So much of the process is to make something and then see how it affects other people. It’s always interesting to me and I never have a negative response to it.
There was one time when this guy kept asking why all the trees were dead in a lot of my paintings. I thought about it as more his concept of it. Trees don’t die when they lose their leaves. They’re in a constant state of losing and gaining, dying and renewing. I didn’t interpret it as a negative reaction to my painting, it was more about what he wanted to see.
Your art has an outsider art or folk art vibe in a way that I really enjoy. Is that something you embrace? How do you keep that going as you achieve success?
It’s funny you ask that. When I was living in London I saw some paintings by a guy named Alfred Wallis. I’m sure he just sat in his house and made these paintings of his daily life. They were these ships in the water, and the way they were rendered was just incredibly beautiful and naïve and almost childlike. And I wanted so much to be able to retain that, in a sense, that naivete. When I was in an art class I had a teacher that was reprimanding me for my style and being really harsh. And there was a part of me that was struggling to do things so perfectly and to do the traditional way of painting. I really wanted to break free from that because it didn’t feel like my true self. For me, it was changing from oil to acrylic, which dries really fast. It made things more instant, you have to work faster, things became more graphic. I really wanted to make things that were like advertisements. The idea of a simplified use of imagery—almost like old political posters or something—made me think, “People will be able to see this and register and relate to this a lot easier the more simple it is.”
The colorful banner that comes out of the mouths of these animals—it repeats often in your art.
I thought it was a more powerful way to paint an emotion. Like, “If animals could talk, what would they say?” It’s more like a musical reference than a language.
Do the colors and shapes in these banners mean different things?
There’s a theme of motherhood that runs through the art.
What does that mean to you? I became a mother five years ago. To have this profound connection with another person—I don’t know if I’d experienced unconditional love up to that point in my life. For me, it was a huge learning thing and also part of my spiritual journey. I really feel now, in the world we live in, there doesn’t seem to be many answers in life for many things, except for unconditional love.
Visit Deedee's website here.