“As a body everyone is single, as a soul never.”
~ Hermann Hesse
INTERVIEW WITH CHERYLENE DYER
Glasgow, United Kingdom ~
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Cherylene, it is poetry the way you are able to convey such emotion through the bodies of your subjects. Dancers, the mentally ill, lovers, the aged, your own mother, yourself…we see them in all their beautiful, tormented complexity.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: How does it feel after completing a piece that packs such a powerful emotional punch as so many of your works?
Cherylene Dyer:[quote] It can be confusing when a work is completed. I always expect to feel more finished than I do, but usually any feelings of resolution fade quickly, and I’m again striving to try and communicate what it is I’m trying to say. I would probably say I feel completely drained after completing a piece, I’m extremely fragile when I’ve completed work, especially a series.[/quote]
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Is it a challenge to create with your models that level of trust necessary to be able to bring out such honestly and vulnerability?
Cherylene Dyer: The models I work with best have either been or are friends or partners, and there is already a level of intimacy and trust there to build upon. When I’m working with models I don’t know, I make a conscious effort to get to know them as well as possible until they often become friends.
Cherylene Dyer: When I photograph a model, I like to sketch and photograph for a couple of hours at a time. I usually have a very strong idea in my head of where the shoot is going, but if things change, I can get extremely excited when I start seeing new ideas forming. My models are great too: some have a background in acting and singing which is perfect for the work I want to do. [quote]I get my models to sing while I photograph, this really helps to establish an atmosphere.[/quote]
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Your depictions of mental illness and anguish also achieve such a high level or authenticity. One feels as if you have witnessed such human experience close-up. Have you been permitted to spend time sketching in a psychiatric facility? If so, what were some of the reactions you received by the residents and staff there? What did you wish to capture?
Cherylene Dyer: Unfortunately, I haven’t had the experience of visiting a psychiatric hospital. but some close friends at present are battling severe mental illnesses, and I’ve suffered on and off with depression myself since adolescence. With regards to my work, [quote]it’s been watching my mum suffering with the after-effects of a brain tumor that has deeply influenced how fragile I see the mind and how terrifying it is to watch someone you love lose massive parts of themselves so quickly and irreversibly.[/quote]
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Just as powerful as your glimpses into the solitary mind are your captures of couples in turmoil and transition. How were you able to elicit such authenticity from your models? Or do you draw mostly from memory and imagination?
Cherylene Dyer: I think it’s the relationships I have with my models and the relationships they have with each other that helps me capture such honesty from them. Most of my couples are couples in real life ~ or were. And in the group paintings, it’s always paintings of friends. [quote]I tell them what I’m hoping to achieve, supply some bottles of wine and just see what the camera captures. They’re mainly in the arts themselves and can quickly assume the roles that I need. My modeling sessions can be fun, noisy and emotional. I often hire studios larger than my own for sessions and I hate to think what people overhearing us must imagine is going on. [/quote]
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Two of your most enigmatic pieces are Yellow Scarf, and Pear Tree. For the first, there was much discussion among those I shared it with as to the emotional state of your subject. Is she distraught? If so, this caused distress for some of my friends. Or, and many hoped this was the case, does her face simply bear the life worn expression of so many years, and she is simply sleeping in peace? Needless to say, this piece elicited a great amount of concern. What was your intent in painting this particular portrait?
Cherylene Dyer: Yellow Scarf is a painting of my Nana in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Such a horrid disease that slowly creeps in and sucks out the very essence of a person. By this point, she was living in a special center but was visiting us for Christmas day. She was having a fairly good day and seemed to know where she was. So I wanted to paint her to immortalize her as who she was and how important to us all she had been. I was standing on a chair taking photos of her while she was napping. But before I could finish, she woke up and became really frightened and agitated at what I was doing. It was horrid. Anyway, I had wanted to paint the sleeping Nana where she had such a sense of peace and I could project onto her all that she had been. Although with the circumstances of the impromptu photo shoot, I feel I projected onto the painting the darkness of the disease too. Hence the title: “Yellow Scarf,” as yellow is the color of sunshine, joy, honor and respect, but when placed next to black, we associate yellow with danger ~ a symbol of sickness and decay. Both hope and hopelessness are prevalent in this painting. This was a challenging painting to do, but I am so glad I tackled it.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Pear Tree is another work where I find there is a great need for your viewers to if not resolve the drama, at least find a satisfying interpretation. What does the title refer to? ~ People want to know. Is Pear Tree what the child has fallen from? The shape her body has taken upon attack from either outside or within?
Cherylene Dyer: [quote]The pear tree in many cultures represents femininity and longevity, the Chinese see it as a blessing for long life, the Germans traditionally would plant a pear tree every time a female baby was born, believing the fruitfulness and longevity of the tree would give strength too and bless their daughters, and in Christianity the pear represents the Savior and the tree of Mankind. In this painting it is the dynamic between a mother and daughter, the strength, the depth, the love and the loss. It’s a very personal painting to me: my reaction to what had happened to the two main female role models in my life and how change can make you feel as vulnerable as a child, but that going through it strengthens and roots you to who you are, were, and will become.[/quote]
Deanna Phoenix Selene: I do appreciate the scumbling technique you employ in many of your works. Do you find this creates a sense of intimacy? Or a protective veil of separation between subject and viewer?
Cherylene Dyer: My use of scumbling can be both intimate and a tool for separation. I sometimes use it to soften the image in order to remove the rawness present. With this I try to involve the viewer, giving them more room to interpret or project their own experiences onto the work. But I am just as likely to use it to separate the viewer from the painting, forcing them to feel like a voyeur encroaching on some personal moment that perhaps they shouldn’t be witnessing. The actual technique of scumbling is really fun to do, and from a technical approach it stops me being too precious about my work. I need to be free enough to lose details and areas of work I may have worked very hard on, which sometimes needs to be done to make the painting work overall.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Another theatrical device you use so well is chiaroscuro. Who have been some of your greatest inspirations for this technique? Again, do you feel this heightens the sense of vulnerability and aloneness surrounding the subject, and thus intimacy, or do you introduce it almost as a means to protect both viewer and subject?
Cherylene Dyer: I think the key to my use of chiaroscuro is that it is such a theatrical device. I’m primarily influenced with both painters and filmmakers alike, including Ingmar Bergman, Wong Kar-Wai…
I also really find myself moved with the early works of Ken Curry ~ a Glasgow-based painter.
Cherylene Dyer:…And Vincent Desiderio, a present-day American realist painter.
Cherylene Dyer: I think I use chiaroscuro as a way of distancing myself from my painting. I become so emotionally involved in my work, that in order to stop myself from immersing completely into the work, I visualize the narrative as if playing out on a stage. To further heighten this, I use a very shallow depth-of-field and whenever possible, I like to paint life-size or just slightly smaller.
Cherylene Dyer: I fluctuate working between natural light and studio lighting, depending on my moods. I’ve been working with natural light so much more these days, becoming more adept at using it in a similar way to the studio lighting so as not to lose the drama it can evoke.
Both Winter and The Clocks Have Stopped are from a series where I wanted to depict people creating distance and barriers between themselves and the viewer ~ cutting the viewer out of the narrative completely. In both, the body language is excluding the viewer, but when using natural light, it gives the figure a relaxed lazy innocence which makes the viewer comfortable.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Among all your works, do you have a favorite piece of yours that is especially close to you and maybe even was difficult to let go of after the work was completed?
Cherylene Dyer: I have two favorite works ~ for very different reasons.
The first is a five-foot painting of my mum’s face. [quote]I painted this not long after she had the operation for her brain tumor and then a course of radium therapy, which caused temporary blindness. In this painting she has very little sight and is so badly brain-damaged that her short-term memory and intellect are severely effected. I used this painting in order to try to come to terms with losing who my mum was, and trying to accept and embrace who she had become, which is a work in progress. But I’m getting there, I think. It lives in my studio and although a few people have tried to purchase it, it’s not for sale. My mum hates it, says it looks nothing like her ~ I don’t blame her, it’s distorted and not at all flattering.[/quote]
Cherylene Dyer: My other painting is much more recent; it’s from a series called “Paper Crowns,” depicting women and the duality of our sexuality. I became very affected by a film I watched on human trafficking and just how many young girls, both women and children, are exploited in such a soul destroying way. I started to see sexuality like a crown, a symbol of our beauty and strength, how unique we are as women – but how this same beauty and sexuality can be brutalized and turned against us. I used the title paper crown to symbolize how easily destroyed and exploited our sexuality can be. In the work, I depict two women standing in very childlike poses. I have them singing, although it could be crying, and their crowns define them. I will eventually sell this work, but it’s become a kind of a gateway painting, changing my direction and even the style in which I paint. So at present I find having it around is driving my work forward in a way it wasn’t moving before.
CHERYLENE DYER (born 1973) graduated from the Glasgow School of Art with a BA and honors in drawing and Painting, and now lives and works in Glasgow, recently acquiring a wasp studio at the Briggait. She works primarily in oil paint, incorporating classic techniques like glazing and scumbling, with less time-consuming techniques like painting wet on wet.
You can also connect with her on Facebook.