ARTIST DIANNE BLELL'S ECLECTIC BRIDGEHAMPTON RETREAT—"GOOSE GIRL HOUSE" AND "VARIOUS FABULOUS MONSTERS"
Dianne Blell's taste is so eclectic, her outlook so global, her oeuvre so mystical that she is style personified: artistic from the inside out. Her nimble hand leaves an indelible stamp on everything from a bathroom sconce to her most recent exhibition, Desire For the Intimate Deity, at the Charles Cowles Gallery in Chelsea. It is informed by travel, mythology, sexuality and a spiritual ideology. Brought up a "retail brat," to this day she is an inveterate clothes horse. The flame of fashion throbs deep in her being, apparent from her very first forays into art-photo-tableaus in which she starred and wore clothing by designers like Mary McFadden and Oscar de la Renta. Throughout the '80s, she created topical and subversive work displayed in the best of galleries, including Leo Castelli in his heyday. She also won Guggenheim fellowships and guest-artisted at Harvard. Audacious titles like Charmed Heads and Urban Cupids and Girl Going Nowhere on Roller Skates, heralded her work—fraught with influences and composed like a stage set. Facets of her taste include French curves suggesting Versailles, the Moghul influences of the Raj, medieval art and the range religious spectrum from Buddhism to Islam.
Her art and life are one and seamlessly incorporate many elements. She is photographer, set and costume designer, gardener, decorator and architect rolled into one. First, she conjures up allegories and creates scenarios, then she transforms them into real life people and theatrical sets, and finally photographs the amalgam with great skill so that it is difficult to perceive where talent and craft begins and ends—or in this case, does not end. She has leapt into the technological land of the 21st century by keeping herself totally informed and educated.
Monuments, people and cultures lured her to Africa and India and then the late '90s brought her to Bridgehampton to roost. Here she has fashioned a house and garden that are life-size (or maybe larger-than-life) versions of her mind-bending, reality-defying art images. After teaching herself the business of elevations and contractors, she reinvented the house, moved an ordinary garage to become what is now a fantastical art studio and turned an unassuming outbuilding into a picturesque guest cottage; all is burnished with that World of Interiors charm that usually takes generations to acquire. The series of work recently shown in Chelsea has taken her more than a decade to complete. A great chunk was taken out of her time, thinking, life and work after the tragedy of 2001; her New York studio was literally across from 2 World Trade Center. Although she rebuilt her residence there, it is in Bridgehampton that she has exorcised her demons and become "freed and shackled at the same time."
In a constant swirl of creative and productive action, she has a wonderful band of warriors that are indispensable to her art, craft and environment. Luis Hernandez not only constructed the fabulously rustic yet stylized intricate twig arches that define two of the garden's scenarios, but he also starred as the blue-painted Krishna in her latest series of work. He and his two gifted brothers, Antonio Sanches and Frederico Hernandez, are carpenters, stylists and executors that allow, and sometimes even inspire, Blell to dream even larger dreams. The fabulous female counterpart to Krishna, Christina Avaletta, she found in true Hollywood style at Bridgehampton's Candy Kitchen. Collaboration is key to her soul and her style.
Like Blell herself, her home and garden are stamped with fashionable exoticisms executed with precision and expertise. No detail goes unnoticed and no problem resolved without an aesthetic approach to the practical. The multi-colored magical constellation in her kitchen floor is a product of plugging up holes left by plumbing pipes and wall studs with just-right-size glass tile. Tables are shod with cloven-hooved animal legs (not necessarily matching), fragments are turned into everything from flying bathtub lintels to fireplace surrounds.
Turkish plates from Istanbul were the inspiration for Ricky Clifton, a stylist supreme, who muralized her walls with harlequin-like patterns executed in the most effervescent of pale palettes. Long skinny cypress trees were painted as accents over carefully preserved, prime-washed blue-grey walls to make the living room appear taller. Perfectly scaled floor lamps are adorned by Blell with handmade leaves to give dimension to and complement the all-over murals. Every cushion, carpet and chandelier is a "Blellism" of one sort or another—sari silks, striped velvets, Egyptian eyes and yellow baseboards all seem to be meant for one another.
That her garden, arranged like one of her dense paintings (or rather her many gardens within a garden), exists on a mere half acre is astonishing. Her first fabulous landscaping buys were a pair of historically indistinguishable but charismatic urns, a fat yew carved into a bulging pyramid and the pair of weeping Japanese copper beeches that now rest as the portal to her studio.
There are chunky junipers sculpted into fat dancing ladies that pirouette along a sunny border. Nestled into that same wonderful stroll is a densely ivy-covered arbor, complete with a Lutyens-style bench and gaze-back-at-you mirror, nuanced with age. Arranged to be best viewed from her second- story bedroom window and octagonal dream turret, in the Formal Garden, boxwood is curved and carved then arranged more like a display than a garden. The vertical yews, pedestalled armillaries and several peeling painted, weathered and wooden columns serve as punctuation marks. She calls them "Chirping Columns" (Blell has an alluring name for everything—her home is known as "Goose Girl House," her garden "Various Fabulous Monsters") and spins a wonderful tale of lost, then found, bird's nests. Behind the artist studio where she brings her fantasies to life is her Alice in Wonderland touch—a green garden "room' whose floor is patterned in the grand old checkerboard-style of the most imposing black and white marble ballrooms. Blell has done it with square moss patterned with concrete pavers and calls it the "Ladies' Intellectual Garden."
She cannot resist the season's paradigm art shoe any more than the fabulous pair of giant Acanthus plants. I bear a special kinship with her (besides my first name), not only as a picky gardener but as another who is mesmerized by the archetypal human condition of constant yearning. Everything she touches makes you covet it. The elements of her world were meant to be hers, and what she can't find already existing—she makes herself.