Featuring Diane Bush
Diane Bush has a lot on her plates, and we mean that literally. The veteran Las Vegas artist has, for the last ten months, been busy curating a pop-up series of group show installations called Dishing It Out 2016, satirical and socially engaged takes on this year’s presidential election. The show continues to attract national artists who have designed ceramic commemorative plates, mugs and other artwork in an effort to find good-natured humor during a stressful political season. Rather than get preachy, Bush and her fellow artists have learned to relinquish the darkness and have fun with the madness.
Q.Your work has always been politically charged, but only recently have you seemed to embrace the tag of “satirical artist.” Your earlier projects seemed much darker.
The outbreak of an unnecessary war (Iraq, 2003) made me angry enough to make angry art, but when I saw how popular educating the public through humor was, thanks to Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert’s show, I knew there was no going back. I don’t have much opportunity to sulk, be angry or complain. My husband will have me in stitches soon enough. I have found that humor is an effective weapon, as well as a special type of armor. Artists cannot be sued for satire. You only need to get one laugh, and you’re protected by law.
Q.The gold-trimmed commemorative ceramic plate is such a great idea and format. It makes me think of those full-page ads that used to, and maybe still do, appear in the back of Parade magazine. I don’t know anyone who’s ever ordered one, but certainly commemorative ceramics loom large in our cultural history. Do you have a serious affection for them or do you just like them for the kitsch factor?
Kitsch, 100 percent. Commemorative ceramics make me laugh. My cousin gave me a Richard Nixon plate as a gag gift, and that helped cement the idea when I was trying to think of how to follow up on my Im-BLEACHment of George W. Bush, where I invited the public to throw bleach on a picture of him. I was looking for a new way to engage the public, physically speaking. So breaking a presidential plate or, in this case, a candidate plate, seemed like a good idea.
Q.Gosh, will I need to don safety goggles?
I still have to figure out how to do it safely. Originally I was going to hire a carny booth, but when the space allotment for my art carnival shrank, the booth had to go. The process may involve a hammer and a Ziploc bag. I’ll still need to shoot some video of someone hurling a few plates at a wall to give the video some drama and visual effects. Either way, there will be sound effects!
Q.Tell me more about the plate smashing. Is there implied violence in the act?
The plate smashing is supposed to be therapeutic for folks experiencing negative emotions due to the election. It’s an exorcism of election angst, fear and frustration. It is also a way to release some of the boredom and tediousness of such a long election season.
Q.What has been the response from artists, in Las Vegas and elsewhere, to Dishing It Out? Please dish!
Many artists embraced it immediately; some were hesitant at first but are joining in now that the project has gained a national following and favorable reviews. Actually, as soon as some artists saw the plates on Facebook they wanted to be part of it. There are a few people I’m still trying to get on board, like newspaper cartoonist Tom Toles and artist Philip Burke, who does covers for Rolling Stone.
Q.You’ve always been open to collaboration and seem to have a real knack for bringing out the best in other artists. How is this experience different from your other group efforts?
What has helped me face a 10-month project, on top of a day job, is the manner in which the public has thanked me for doing all this. It’s different than the normal “nice job” response I would get when I show work that is, I guess, “arty.” The Sahara West Library helped collect about five pages of comments from the Vanity Plates exhibit (part of Dishing It Out 2016), and the responses were extremely positive and rewarding. … There was a good deal of “thought-provoking” and “made me think” and “thank you.” Ordinary art exhibits don’t elicit many comments like that.
Q.Have there been pleasant surprises in the work you’ve solicited for Dishing It Out?
An early painting of Donald Trump by my brother, Jerry Ross, turned out to be popular with both Trump fans and foes. He looks either pompous or proud depending on which side you’re on. So we had both Trump supporters and foes come to the launch at the Brett Wesley Gallery in January. That surprised me.
Q.Are you satisfied with the plates’ production?
I’m surprised how wonderful these plates look. They’re a beast to make, but when they work they are precious. After making art for so many years, it’s hard to still get a thrill from the process. But like printmaking, getting a good result can be exasperating until you pull back the dye sublimation material and see the results. This is my first venture into ceramics. I love the weight of the dishes, the sheen.
Q.You certainly couldn’t do this without the support of the galleries. Were you surprised by how supportive they’ve been?
I’ve been extremely lucky. Most galleries are booked two years in advance. Brett Wesley gave me an incredible two-week window for the January launch that then turned into a month. Left of Center had a space that they didn’t consider worthy because it had no gallery lighting, but it mimicked a caucus headquarters so perfectly you could not have built a more realistic movie-set environment. Then I had a breather in May, where I did a performance piece at First Friday behind the Arts Factory. … The last exhibit, The Final Tally, opens election night, one minute after the polls close, 7 p.m., at UV Gallery on Main Street. We’ll be watching the results come in while viewing the best of the last ten months’ submissions.
Exclusive Web Content »
Q. Do you genuinely get excited about presidential elections? Or do you get depressed and then have to channel your disappoint through the artistic process?
I see the elections as an opportunity to do something a bit different with my talents and get a bit silly, a bit wacky! The Im-BLEACHment of George W. Bush was such a fond and well-remembered event. I wanted to give the public another means of venting their election angst and to have fun and lighten the mood. I’ve been doing more performance work, which is so much fun, because you never know what folks will say or do. When I’m doing performance work, I feel more like an entertainer. If art can make us laugh, then art is medicine. So I chose to be positive and hopeful. That’s how I cope with uncertainty. And we all know that the only thing we can count on is change.
Q. Tell me more about the fabrication of the plates. Did it turn out to be more complicated than you initially envisioned? Or is all under perfect control?
Control? That would be nice! No, this is my first time working with a heat press, dye sublimation inks, a new printer, new paper and all the variables that come into play. My husband has been instrumental in helping me keep my sanity through it all. The inks are very expensive, and the dye sublimation paper is very temperature sensitive, and sometimes you just hear a dreadful crack in the middle of pressing a plate. It’s tempting to fantasize about farming it all out and spending a lot more money to avoid the failures. I’m still having color issues, and I waver between blaming the inks, the printer or the paper. But the joy of a successful plate reminds me again why I should do more printmaking. Success is so rewarding, because the process is so laborious, both technically and emotionally.
Q. How do you think your art has changed over the years?
My current passion is temporary public art. Stuff you cannot sell but still has an impact on a large number of people. It’s extremely rewarding. People are still talking to me about the yarn-bombed Maryland Parkway pedestrian bridge I designed and installed for the West Flamingo Yarn Stormers. I’m doing more public-participation performance work, more mixed media and a bit of sculpture. I still love photography, but presentation costs are a real turnoff. I really want to experiment more with projection. None of this is sellable, but I never got into this game to make money. I just wanted to do something fulfilling and rewarding with what talents I have. If I break even, financially, with a grant or two, I feel pretty good.
Q. What do you think about art in downtown Las Vegas today versus, say, 10 years ago?
I like all the smaller galleries that have popped up. I like the fact that there is not just the Arts Factory, but also Art Square, and all the new galleries popping up on First Street. The Nevada Humanities Office has been doing some fantastic shows, and I am glad the Arts Factory has maintained some anchors like Sin City, Watson, Dray, 3 Bad Sheep, etc. Brett Wesley has had a big influence. It’s hard to list everyone, but none of this would exist without the early pioneers: CAC, NICA, Wes (Myles). … It’s all a result of an arts community that worked its tail off, building a foundation for future generations and graduating classes. … I can’t wait to see what it looks like in another 10 years.
In October, Dishing It Out will have a “mini-art carnival,” in which the public is invited to smash the commemorative plates, pose with Uncle Sam and have their fortunes told. For more info, visit Facebook and search for Dishing It Out 2016.