From the ground up |

From the ground up

Local painter Diane Cionni on getting back to basics

Margaret Hair

— With almost 30 years of arts education and professional experience behind her, local painter Diane Cionni went into hiding.

Well, she went to grad school. But after two years at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Cionni retreated from the art world she had known – setting herself up in a new Steamboat Springs studio and relearning everything she had practiced.

“I didn’t show for a number of years after that, just to kind of give myself a chance to incubate,” Cionni said.

The paintings she had been doing – scenes from around Steamboat with trees and mountains and definite, immovable shapes – had rules. Cionni was interested in breaking those rules. So, she went back to basics, painting geometric figures and simple shapes, playing with color and layers.

“All the things I was interested in, I just kind of laid them out and said, ‘How can you make a painting out of that,'” Cionni said.

Her new pieces fall into two series. The acrylics in “Cloud Inquiry” are abstractions of super-close-up photos of grass and weeds – Cionni calls them psycho-botanicals, taken from an ant’s eye view. “Now, Now” is a series of mixed media paintings inspired by microscope images of plants, animals, pollens and viruses.

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Those ideas are a big break from the public pieces Cionni has hanging in Yampa Valley Medical Center and Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel – those works are mostly oil paintings, done outside, often of clouds.

“They were more based on observation. I spent a lot of time outside working from nature, and I got kind of bored with it, with the limitations of it,” Cionni said.

Kimberly Saari, whose gallery was home to Cionni’s work when she came out of the studio, said the difference between Cionni’s earlier painting and what she’s doing now is drastic.

On March 7, K. Saari Gallery will host Cionni’s first solo show since her change of style, a collection called “Up” that includes pieces from “Cloud Inquiry” and “Now, Now.”

“The biggest thing I’ve noticed is that people are very surprised because it’s a completely different body of work from what they’re used to seeing with Diane,” Saari said. In Cionni’s multimedia work, Saari said she finds something new every time she looks.

“I guess I’ve always been a sucker for surface. That, with all those whimsical qualities (of the collage), is really very intriguing,” Saari said.

In Cionni’s home studio, many of the surfaces and whimsical qualities in “Now, Now” come from boxes of hand drawings, pages she’s torn out of old books, maps, fabric patterns – anything, really, that catches her eye and might work in abstract layers.

“I start with an acrylic painting, and then I collage on top of it – that’s what all these boxes of garbage are,” Cionni said.

To get ready for her solo show, Cionni said she gets to her studio around 5 a.m. each day, and alternates between the random inspiration that spurs her collages and the rigid detail that shapes her paintings.

“I like the idea that painting is a human endeavor – that if you stand in front of something, you are looking at hours of intense work,” Cionni said.