Nancy Guppy Interviews Visual Artist Diem Chau

The Seattle magazine columnist takes crayons out of the box with Diem Chau
Nancy Guppy chats with Diem Chau

COFFEE DATE: Visual artist Diem Chau (diemchau.com), known for the tiny likenesses she carves into Crayola crayons, and whose show of new work at G. Gibson Gallery runs 8/30–10/5 (ggibsongallery.com)
SCENE: Diem Chau’s home studio in Ballard on a warm Wednesday in June
DIEM’S ORDER: Triple-shot iced Americano with milk

Nancy Guppy: When did it first occur to you to carve tiny sculptures out of crayons?
Diem Chau: After art school I was doing research into American folk art where people sit and whittle. I had a box of crayons sitting on my desk and I started carving on them, and it was wonderful. The wax was soft, easy to carve, and as soon as I made a cut, there was a facet to the crayon. It was nice and shiny, just like a gem.

NG: Michelangelo famously said that he merely liberated the statue that was already inside the marble. Do you liberate the tiny little people who live inside those crayons and pencil lead?
DC: Now I’m gonna hear a tiny voice that says, “Help me! Let me out!”

NG: Do you ever feel like grabbing a chain saw and going crazy on a tree stump?
DC: Yeah! I actually bought a mini chain saw, and it works like a real chain saw, except it’s a handheld grinder, so it’s meant to carve stumps or smaller wood objects. I don’t do taxidermy, but it also has a flesh remover.

NG: What does it feel like when someone buys a piece of your art?
DC: It’s amazing! At first it was disbelief. I was like, “Are you sure? You know this will break. And there’s no function to it!”

NG: Is this G. Gibson show a career highlight?
DC: I attack every new show with “this is going to be the best ever” energy.

NG: Are you a careful person?
DC: I’m meticulous when it comes to logistics. But in the ways of finished product or artwork or how this is going to affect my career, I’m reckless. I’m a drunk driver with my art.

NG: Let’s finish this by eating a crayon.
DC: Sure.
Nancy bites into “Tickle M Pink.” Diem bites into “Lavender.”
NG: Seems like it should taste a lot better.
DC: Maybe next time we’ll try the scented ones.

Nancy Guppy showcases Seattle artists on her television show, Art Zone (seattlechannel.org/artzone).

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