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The Benefit
January 30, 2020

Benefit 2020 Auction Items: Diane Pieri’s ‘Sunday in Varanasi’

About the Author
Deborah Kostianovsky

See the exhibition here


Travel is not only a porthole through which to glimpse other lives, other rituals, other values, but it also serves as a catalyst that forces you to appreciate irony and contradiction, and sometimes even spark sorely needed transformation in your own life. It beckons you to weave new color and music and vitality into your own experiences, producing a richer, more textured, tolerant and engaged life experience. And there is no place on earth that seems more rife with color, myth, music, and contradiction than India. And particularly Varanasi, the holiest of seven sacred cities for Hindus and Jains and the pilgrim-drawing capital of India. [1] The Ganges river in this Northern Indian city, for example, is a place so full of sewage and filth that it is one of the world’s most polluted rivers, yet it draws thousands of worshipers to plunge into its purifying water. [2] As eloquently noted by Sharanya Deepak: “This town is surreal…It’s crumbling, poetic, and eccentric. Goats wearing sweaters, old men taking dips, boys flying kites, and burning bodies are everyday sights.” [3] How can you reconcile this crushing dichotomy of beauty and misery, of devastating overpopulation and individual spiritual enlightenment, of burning bodies and sublime temples? And how can a painting capture the restless, complex, beautiful spirit of such a place?
Diane Pieri seems to distill the shimmering, vibrant cacophony of this place in her painting entitled Sunday in Varanasi, measuring 23 x 33 x2. Full disclosure: having never visited, I can only imagine the colors, the spirit, the bustling, crowded humanity of Varanasi, starkly contrasting the shadowy, darker aspects of the city. Yet Diane Pieri seems to have found a lens through which to capture the magic and splendor of such a complex place. She states: “My paintings are translations of and reactions to gorgeous marble inlays, breathtaking landmarks, delightful Indian folk images and intensely colorful experiences from this pivotal trip.”  She notes an interest in Indian miniatures, which traditionally are filled with vivid color and symbolism. The colors in this piece seem to pop out of the canvas with their beauty and joyfulness, and the multitude of shapes seem to capture the commotion on the banks of the Ganges river, possibly alluded to by the light blue shape of a boat and the darker blue waves filled with organic leaflike shapes underneath. And despite the contradictions inherent in Varanasi, this painting leaves us with a sense of wonder, delight, and fascination with this alluring place.
Diane Pieri received a BFA from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art in 1969. She has had 31 solo exhibitions and has been included in 210 national and international group exhibits. She was the recipient of two Pollock-Krasner grants and two Independence Foundation Fellowships in the Arts, and a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant. She has been a teaching artist at the Philadelphia Museum of Art for twenty-one years and has taught at the Barnes Foundation for four years.
[1] Sharanya Deepak, “21 Things to Know Before You Go to Varanasi,” Roads and Kingdoms, May 4, 2018
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
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