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written by Erica Lindsay Walker, vice president, education chair

On her site, Diane Fine has a series of charcoal drawings of interiors. For me, looking at them is like wandering through a dream. Everything about them feels both familiar and unknown. The contrast between their “English cottage” look, and the sense that things are not as innocent as they seem, is what makes these drawings so unsettling and so powerful.

Wake Up Call

Wake Up Call

“Wake Up Call” is one of my favourites in the series. In this scene, we are looking out of a window at a presumably noisy bird. Bird calls, a ruffled curtain – what could be more homey? Except that this doesn’t feel much like a home. The window is open, but we feel closed in; the heavy dark panelling suggests the bars of a prison. Outside we find no landscape, not even a single tree – it’s all rooftops and brick walls, with just a hint of sky.

The values are ominous too. Fine has made the most of charcoal’s ability to produce intense darks. There is lot of deep shadow touched here and there with gleams of light and things we can’t quite see. The sky is the lightest area, perhaps untouched paper. I find it particularly dramatic: set against the darkest values, it really feels like space, the one area in the work that provides some visual and emotional breathing room.

Although this is a perfectly recognizable scene – we clearly know what we are looking at – there is not a lot of detail. Instead, there is a strong focus on formal qualities that belies the realism. The entire image seems made up not so much of actual objects, but of squares and rectangles, lines and masses, positive and negative space. Perspective seems a bit askew. The window tilts to one side, as if we might be falling. Some of the straight lines bend a little here and there, adding to the dreamlike effect.

It’s as if the artist is telling us a story, but we don’t know how it ends. The end of this story is one we have to write ourselves.