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Ft. Thomas Artist Looks Back on 25 Years of Creating with Exhibit at NKU

Clay vessels, figurative mixed media, landscape photos with hand coloring, daily journals, new photographs with handwork – meet artist and Fort Thomas resident Diane Kruer through more than 100 works, an art retrospective covering almost 25 years, continuing in the Northern Kentucky University galleries through March 6.
 
Her wide-ranging work is easily explained – as a student at NKU (she graduated in 1975), Kruer majored in clay and minored in photography as an undergrad and grad student.  
 
As a teacher for more than 35 years, including almost 30 at Seven Hills Upper School in Cincinnati (1986-2014), “I had exposure every day to scores of kids and their ideas, aesthetics, technical prowess".
 
The retrospective begins with clay vessels with mixed media and gold interiors. “I always used the vessel as a metaphor. To change to a literal image or figure was a natural evolution.”
 
As Kruer explored figurative work and landscapes, “The gold on the interior of a vessel goes to gold on the figure, then gold in the skies. But always with the same reverence”. 
 
Kruer laughed as she recalled, “I graduated with an MFA, which qualified me to teach at the university level. At the time, I could be heard to say – loudly – that I would never, ever teach grade school. What the hell did I know? I went to Seven Hills as a visiting artist and I never left. I absolutely fell in love with the school and the students”. She stayed for 35 years, and retired in 2014.
 
“I think students have affected my art more than my art affected them. Working with amazing teenagers -- and they all are amazing -- helping them discover and define their visual voice kept me constantly solving conceptual, aesthetic and technical problems. I learned every day. I am grateful.”
 
The NKU retrospective includes 20 years of her daily artifact journals, containing more than 7,300 test tubes from 1990-2015. Each test tube contains an object or objects that represents that day in her life in that year.  
 
“Long ago I promised myself I would always do something every day for my art. I like the structure of time imposed on a process. I love the idea of journals but I am not a writer so that felt very forced. I am an object maker -- so for me a small souvenir/artifact gathered every day that is symbolic somehow of that day's significance was more suited to my way of expressing a daily story. 
 
“Each object is imbued with memory for me. It is as one might bring home a shell from a beach vacation and it sits there as a reminder every time you see it of that time. You could tell the whole story of your vacation by the shell triggering the memory.”
 
An example: her son Ian Andersen’s birthday is Feb. 7. She marks it every year, this year with a small vial of gold dust. 
 
“I think the journaling has reminded me to pay attention to the small common moments of life that together create significance. Or maybe I was a Magpie in a previous life!“
 
She whittles decades of work down to 100 pieces, Kruer says, with the help of  best friends, Barbara Houghton and Barry Andersen (also her husband). They curated the show with her, bringing what Kruer called "objectivity, confidence, and comfort".
 
Kruer mused that she hadn’t realized how much work she’d done while being a parent and full-time teacher. 
 
“It is an interesting experience to step back and reflect on a body of work over 25 years. I thought when I retired it was a beginning -- moving forward -- this experience has made me look back. It is a summary of my life in the studio.”
 
What she learned all those years ago at NKU: “It is the best art department around. (I learned) to be a strong and good artist is to be a strong and good person first.”
 
While it isn’t reflected in the retrospective, clay remains a favorite medium for Kruer. It’s just that “I used two tons of clay every year teaching. I was getting my fix in the classroom!”
 
Also on view: Soul, Sequins & Solid Gold, a collaborative art exhibition featuring local, regional and international artists reinterpreting screen-printed versions of the paparazzi-style photography of Gene Spatz. This exhibition is curated by BLDG Gallery of Covington and was most recently on view at BLDG Gallery during the holiday season.
 
Re-View: A Retrospective Exhibition of Works by Diane Kruer and Soul, Sequins and Solid Gold, through March 16. NKU Galleries, Fine Arts Center, NKU, Highland Heights. Gallery hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. weekdays. Free. For more information including directions, click here.
 
Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts
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