By Gina Malone
Mixed media artist Denby Dale bristles at the idea that artists need to limit themselves creatively. “I have several directions in which I focus my energies in my work,” she says. “I feel that all of my areas of interest inform one another and spur new ideas in other media.”
She works in abstract drawing/painting on paper using ink, oil, cold wax, graphite, powdered graphite and chalk pastel, and creates encaustic pieces with sculptural elements. “I cast and use the encaustic paint to explore form and dimension; heated pigment wax paint is a natural fit for collage and embedding objects.” She also makes small format assemblages in the form of mixed media belt buckles that are individually titled with no design ever repeated.
Dale considers herself fortunate to have worked in art-related fields all of her adult life—from managing studios to procuring artwork for a gallery featuring African sculpture. Her artistic tendencies have deeper roots, however, going back to her childhood.
Born in Washington, D.C., she grew up in suburban Maryland until age 11. “Being exposed to the D.C. area on a regular basis at a young age,” she says, “was strongly influential, as we regularly spent weekends downtown at various Smithsonian institutions.” From there her family moved to Cape Cod, MA. She remained in the northeast, after attending Connecticut College, until moving to Asheville in 2011. (Her interest in WNC had been initiated when she managed Scargo Pottery, started in Cape Cod in 1952 by Harry Holl, a graduate of Black Mountain College.)
“I was terribly shy at a young age,” Dale says, “and making art and other insular activities suited me well.” She does not remember a time when she was not making or creating things. Her grandmother painted and her mother indulged Dale in all of her creative endeavors. “Staking claim to the dining table with an oil painting set up—which remained there for days—was somehow permitted,” she recalls. “Only now do I truly appreciate how supported I was, and I imagine it certainly played a role in my pursuing art. I was never told it was ‘impractical’ or so much folly. It was just what I did.”
She benefited from a strong art curriculum in high school and credits a college professor with setting her on her artistic path. “I always loved drawing and painting, but it was after taking a collage and assemblage class that my visual vocabulary opened up and changed the way I approached everything.” Exploring a mingling of different media and raw materials tapped into a part of her creative self. “It’s remarkable how a creative process can hasten self-discovery,” she says, “revealing to you aspects of your own personality you may never have considered.”
Creation, for her, is a process of building. “When you find the freedom of looking at most anything as a potential material—for mark making or building into a piece—so many amazing things can happen. Even very disparate materials can find relationships to one another and it is a kind of puzzle to figure that out. This is what I love to do most.”
Her sculptural encaustic pieces are a creative complement to her drawings and paintings. “My current encaustic work explores minimalism and simplicity, providing a contrast to the more movement-based abstract drawings. I feel I am always jockeying between these two sensations in my work—the indulgence of color and heightened energy versus the quiet nature of exploring form for form’s sake.”
Abstract art, she emphasizes, is not random creation. “Every inch of any successful abstract piece has been carefully considered by the artist and follows the same artistic rules and principles as more traditionally referential paintings.”
She enjoys talking with people about her art and learning what they see, which may not be what she herself sees. “I organically witness and see in an abstract way and I am most comfortable in that space.”
Dale’s work is available at Contemporaneo Asheville Gallery & Shop. “Showing my work at Contemporaneo has been tremendous,” she says, “and I look forward to an ongoing relationship with this dynamic Asheville gallery.” In April she will participate in the Weaverville Art Safari. She will also exhibit her belt buckles at fine art festivals throughout the US this year.
Contemporaneo Asheville Gallery & Shop is located at 4 Biltmore Avenue in downtown Asheville. Denby Dale Art, her home studio, is located in Weaverville where visits by appointment are welcome. To learn more, call 617.620.1573, visit denbydaleart.com or find her on Instagram @denbykdale. She also has an Etsy shop, d2fixedobjects, where her belt buckles are available.