HomeLink Magazine Summer 2008: Artist Profile: Diane Cionni 

By Lucia Novara

Diane CionniDiane Cionni has a lot of ideas: ideas about the nature of time, the connection between paisley and cellular structure, and the mathematical rhythm of life. While some people talk about their ideas, Cionni paints them. Surrounded by her giant colorful canvases, Cionni explains where her ideas come from and how she translates them into works of art.

Cionni grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. Despite her industrial surroundings, she had a rich inner life and spent hours drawing, painting and writing. During a trip to the Cleveland Art Museum with her painting class, the works of Mark Rothko inspired her to make color her life’s work. The connection with nature here in the Yampa Valley also inspires her. The study of yoga influences her work as well, with the concepts of interconnectedness and nature's rhythm evident in many of her pieces. Despite her training in a variety of media, Cionni primarily paints:
 
Wabi Sabi Birthday"When you're painting, a whole world opens up and you can learn about life...there are so many metaphors between painting and life. Using three colors to create a piece with a thousand hues says so much about life to me. The possibilities for learning techniques and styles are inexhaustible. And I like the smell." 
 
When Cionni went to graduate school at the Maryland Institute College of Art she moved away from traditional landscape painting and began to work with abstract form. Since the works weren't based on perception, she began to base them in math and science.

“The rhythm and mathematical patterning in microscopic images (and decorative art) fascinate me and remind me of the interconnectedness of all things which is always a sub-theme in my paintings. All these images I collect seem to rhyme like a beautiful mysterious poem,” Cionni says.
 
These influences can be seen in her recent work shown at the K. Saari Gallery in Steamboat Springs.

“It is an experience to show her new body of work because it is such a departure from her previous style that she was known for. She used to do more representational work, landscapes and such, she still is inspired by images of nature but with a different perspective,” says Kimberly Conrad Saari, gallery owner.


The “Now, Now” series combines visible aspects of nature with the microscopic world Cionni studies in electron microscope images. She uses paint, ink and collage to create multi-layered images. The works incorporate seed pod stencils, cell structures, and batik prints to create an interface between the natural world we can see and the microscopic substructure within it.

For the “Cloud Inquiry” series Cionni takes a completely different approach. Walking around the meadow behind her studio, she snaps random shots from an ant’s point of view. She downloads the images and crops interesting compositions, then manipulates the images with Photoshop until they look like psychedelic abstracts with just a trace of the original organic forms. The arresting color and perspective of the paintings created from these images almost pop off the walls of her studio.
 
While most artists have a serviceable workspace, Cionni’s studio is a work of art unto itself. The design concept created by Steamboat architect Joe Patrick Robbins was based on a Frank Lloyd Wright studio. The tall pitched ceilings and light make it feel like a chapel. There's a yoga and meditation space in the half loft above the studio where Cionni mentally and physically prepares for the day’s work. Industrial steel beams cross the room below the loft with adjustable track lighting to highlight the ongoing works gracing the walls. The floor is covered in cork and provides a contrasting texture to the otherwise clean lines. The east wall has large windows showcasing a classic Northern Colorado landscape of pines and ridges. 
 
Cynthia Radcliff of Thurston Kitchen & Bath collaborated with Cionni to create the perfect atmosphere for her studio. Radcliff said they needed the large space and light for Cionni to work, but that they didn’t want it to feel like a warehouse. They softened the feel of the space with natural accents of stone tile and cork flooring.

 “I think this space showcases her work well because her work is bold and the neutral colors and simple lines display it well,” said Radcliff. 
 
As perfect as the studio is, Cionni will soon leave it for a year long sabbatical in Europe and India. On her journey she hopes to learn about mosaics as another medium for public art.
 
 "I want to make art that is accessible to people who aren't art collectors. I love doing site-specific pieces. I'm given a space and I paint for that space, or those people." 
 
Her public works on display in Steamboat Springs are very site-specific. The painting at the Yampa Valley Medical Center was meant to have a healing quality in the quiet water landscape. Her piece in the Steamboat Grand Hotel was designed to invite people emerging from long meetings and conferences to experience the expansive release of open sky. Another painting commissioned for friends from the "Cloud Inquiry" series, features stylized grasses and sky from the insect perspective. 
 
"It was for their bedroom. I wanted them to wake up every morning and feel like they were looking out into the world."
 
What a gift. “...looking out into the world,” through Diane Cionni’s eyes—a unique vision with jarring perspective and arresting color that challenges each of us to re-view the world of color and form that surrounds us.