BROOKINGS – Recognition of her printmaking art – via exhibits, awards and honors across the nation, from New York to Nebraska to California – has been often evident in the work of Diana Behl, associate professor and program coordinator of the studio art program in the School of Design at South Dakota State University.
Now add to that recognition a fellowship and fall residency, July 26 through Aug. 16, at Ucross, a non-profit, well-recognized and renowned program in northeastern Wyoming. Ucross offers residencies of two to four weeks to artists, composers, musicians, writers and poets.
“I was one of 10 artists,” Behl explained of her selection. Additionally, she was the only printmaker who made the cut for this year’s group of 10 selectees.
(The Metropolitan Museum of Art defines printmaking as “an artistic process based on the principle of transferring images from a matrix onto another surface, most often paper or fabric. … A matrix is essentially a template and can be made of wood, paper or glass. … “The matrix is then inked in order to transfer it onto the desired surface.”)
“It was the first cohort of artists they were able to host since opening back up (after the start of the COVID pandemic),” she added. “I had my own studio, a space with a printing press and another adjacent space.
“My project was focusing on working with indirect and direct means of image making. One day I was working on collage and drawings, one day on prints; and there was a practical aspect to that. If you take a look in the Ritz Gallery (in Grove Hall on the SDSU campus), I actually have some of those things that I made there for that exhibit.”
While we live in a digital age, what Behl did was hands-on work.
“Absolutely,” she said. “There are artists who work digitally, but the way that I work with print processes, it’s still very common in the way that it’s taught here at the university and it’s still a fine-arts medium.
“The (relief) process was first started hundreds and hundreds of years ago, and it’s still being used. So it’s a timeless medium that will never be replaced by digital means – as far as fine arts is concerned.”
UCross self-describes its setting as a “historic 20,000-acre ranch, located in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains in northeastern Wyoming.”
“It was really beautiful,” Behl said. “The landscape was stunning. It was incredible to be there with nine other artists who are deeply committed to their work.”
The entire group of the 2021 Ucross fellows, 65 of them this go-around, come to the residencies in groups of 10. They hail from 21 different states and a variety of disciplines. This year’s fellows came from literature, visual arts, music and dance. All were selected by independent panels of jurors.
“You apply with images of your work, a statement about your work, a proposal of what you want to work on while you’re there, and references to support your application,” Behl explained. “It’s blind, peer review. The jurying is anonymous.”
The jurors see the applicant’s work but not the applicant. In Behl’s group of 10, there was “a photographer, a painter, a mixed-media artist, writers, composers and musicians.”
“It’s just a very amazing, wonderful restorative experience,” she said of her days at Ucross. “To be in that environment and the landscape is beautiful. It’s very quiet. You share a communal dinner that’s made by chefs. The staff was incredibly warm and welcoming. It was a very wonderful experience to be there, coming after COVID. It’s incredible; I’m so grateful.
“How you use your time and what comes out of that is totally up to you. Some artists, they might use that time just to generate some ideas for some future work.
“I wanted to use the time to experiment the process described before but also to create a series of drawings and relief mono-prints. I was making a lot.”
“Actually, three weeks wasn’t enough time,” Behl added, laughing a bit.
She was juried in on her first attempt. She had applied to some other programs but was not successful. She may try for Ucross again, after the required one year away, but she appreciates that there would be no guarantee she would again make the cut. And she may apply for some other offerings similar to those at Ucross.
A niche at SDSU
Behl grew up outside of Cleveland and did her undergraduate work at Bowling Green State University (Ohio), earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in two-dimensional and design studies. She went on to the University of Iowa (Iowa City), where she earned additional degrees: graduating in 2005 with a Master of Fine Arts and a Master of Arts in printmaking. Next stop was SDSU.
“I accepted an emergency-hire position here, and I’ve been here ever since,” Behl said, smiling. “Part of why I stayed is the studio; I love working in the studio. This is where I teach and where I also make my own work.” Her classes include Printmaking, Color Theory, Design II, and professional development.
Behl explained that what she learned at Ucross she will take into the classroom. She considers herself a “teacher-scholar.”
“So what I learned from my own making and my own studio practice is absolutely part of how I teach. And also learning from other artists is part of what I give to my students.”
The studio is located in Grove Hall, noted above as also housing the Ritz Gallery, on the SDSU campus. The Ritz is open to the public, and works of art by both faculty and students are on display via a rotation system. Some of what Behl did at Ucross are on display in the gallery – she calls them “works in progress.”
Contact John Kubal at [email protected]