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Folk art with a twist

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Cuarteles artist Diana Bryer fuses culture with creativity

By Jennifer Garcia

Tucked away down a narrow dirt road and nestled between houses and trees, sits Cuarteles artist Diana Bryer’s home and studio.

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Small signs point the way, but if you’re not paying attention, you might miss the driveway as you travel along the curvy road that leads to Chimayó.

Once you get to her studio, you soon realize that she’s not your typical Northern New Mexican artist. The building out of which she sells her art is a converted construction trailer that’s been painted a sort-of rust color, with yellow and turquoise borders framing it. All the designs that adorn the trailer have been hand-painted by Bryer, who refers to her art style as “American Jewish Folk Art.”

A border of moons, suns, hearts, peace signs and vines of flowers creep around the yellow door that separates the outside world from Bryer’s artistic creations.

Originally from Los Angeles, Bryer first came to New Mexico in 1976, when she visited Santa Fe and the surrounding areas. She moved here in 1977 and has been here ever since. She has three children, Brian, 41, Sara, 37, and Simon, 27; and five grandchildren, with one on the way.

Though her father didn’t approve of her career choice, it seems that Bryer always knew that she had artistic talent.

“As a little girl in Kindergarten, teachers were amazed at my art talent. One teacher had me make Santa Claus and eight reindeer for a display,” she said.

As a young entrepreneur, Bryer also made necklaces, which she sold for 50 cents to her classmates. Her art later evolved and she began making seed mosaics, which she also sold. She entered her mosaics into an adult art show when she was 13 and won an honorable mention.  A few years later, a gallery proprietor who featured her work and sold it, discovered her.

Bryer’s father, a pharmacist, who owned a store in Beverly Hills, hoped that she would follow in his footsteps and become a pharmacist, but fate had other plans.

“I thought sitting there counting pills and typing up prescription labels all day was boring,” Bryer said.

When she was 18, Bryer’s father died and her mother went to work to support the family, while Bryer stayed home and cared for her younger siblings. Bryer had received a scholarship to Chouinard Art Institute, and made a go at attending the Art Center School, but after a few failed attempts at entering art school and a lot of frustration over how instructors taught their classes, Bryer purchased a book and taught herself how to paint.

“They (the teachers) all wanted you to do things the way they did,” Bryer said.

With support from her mother, Bryer began learning about different mediums and crafting her style.

“Art is a wonderful thing. Everyone should experience whether you’re good at it or not,” she said. “It opens up the endorphins. It’s almost like a creative high.”

Bryer’s paintings are colorful and portray various scenes. From a mixture of old-world Spain and modern day Hispanics, to gypsies, weavers and animals, her artwork features intricate details. Because there are so many subtleties in her paintings, it’s impossible to take it all in at first glance. Her paintings require the viewer to study the scene to get the full impact.

Her Jewish heritage is portrayed in many of her paintings, which feature the Star of David used in various ways. Gypsies are another recurring theme for Bryer.

“I have always loved gypsies. There’s something free about them,” she said. “I also like the fact that I see a similarity between the gypsies and the Jews. They were both persecuted.”

Like most experienced artists, over the years Bryer has developed a technique that works for her. She said she never knows what she’s going to paint until she actually sits down and starts working.

“I pick and choose from things that I see … Things just appear on the painting,” she said. “The borders (that frame most of her paintings) are an extension of the painting, you have to have something that ties into the painting … I never know how it’s going to come out. It’s all about creating and letting the painting lead you.”

Editor’s note: Bryer’s work is on display through Sept. 25 in the Portal Gallery of the Fuller Lodge Art Center. Read Tuesday’s Monitor for a story on the art show.