‘It Permits Me a Different Kind of Brain Activity’: Watch Diana Al-Hadid Explain the Free-Flowing Process Behind Her Multilayered Art

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Diana Al-Hadid. Photo: Lisa DeLong.

Brooklyn-based artist Diana Al-Hadid‘s paintings have a rhythm all of their own.

Her inspiration comes from a vast array of source material, from classic literature to art history, and from her own personal upbringing to the architectural environment around her. All these themes find their way into her intricate, multilayered sculptures.

“My work isn’t really one decision that’s stable,” Al-Hadid said in an interview with Art21 back in 2015. “It’s a lot of interwoven and fluctuating decisions. And that’s why it permits me a different kind of brain activity.”

The interview, originally aired as part of Art21’s New York Close Up series, finds Al-Hadid in her studio, creating massive sculptures that combine aspects of medieval tracery, Italian Renaissance paintings, and a dose of inspiration from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, which she was listening to via audiobook during the process.

Production still from the Art21 "New York Close Up" film, "Diana Al-Hadid Plays the Classics." © Art21, Inc. 2015.

Production still from the Art21 “New York Close Up” film, “Diana Al-Hadid Plays the Classics.” © Art21, Inc. 2015.

Using materials like bronze, gypsum, fiberglass, and plaster, Al-Hadid’s works begin as drawings, which she layers over and over. Later, these layered forms are captured with the help of studio assistants and held in place until they dry, at which point the artist peels away the “backing” to reveal ghostly built-up casts she describes as forms “suspended in isolation.” 

Right now at The Momentary in Bentonville, Arksansas, a solo exhibition of Al-Hadid’s work is on view in “Diana Al-Hadid: Ash in the Trade Winds.” The 10 wall panels, drawings, and sculptures that Al-Hadid created between 2018 and 2021 are inspired by another piece of literature, Wilhelm Jensen’s novella Gradiva. In these newer works too, dripping pigments are captured mid-flight down large canvases, and sculptures as delicate as lace appear like the scaffolding from stately churches, all suspended in time.


Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s New York Close Up series, below. “Diana Al-Hadid: Ash in the Trade Winds” is on view through June 13 at The Momentary. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org

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