WSU Tri-Cities exhibit explores visitors' reactions to paintings

By Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 21, 2013 

A unique art exhibit, opening Tuesday at Washington State University Tri-Cities in Richland, goes beyond life imitating art.

The show -- titled Untitled -- features the paintings of Tri-City artist Cameron T. Mills, but the theme of the show is really the brainchild of Davin Diaz of West Richland.

Diaz, 35, created and designed the show as a way to explore the emotions of the artist as well as viewers, he said.

The plan is to have Mills' paintings work in concert with visitor interpretations of the art. People who visit the show will be encouraged to fill out anonymous questionnaires that will ask three questions about the seven featured paintings.

"My intent is to explore people's reactions and interpretation to Cameron's paintings," Diaz said. "I don't want to stick a camera in someone's face and put people on the spot. I will pose the questions in a way that allows the audience to really contemplate and give honest answers."

Mills, 28, and a 2003 Kamiakin High graduate, shares Diaz's curiosity about learning how people view art.

Once he learned to communicate through his paintings at age 21, he felt a sense of peace and calmness he hadn't experienced before, Mills said. He characterizes his diverse style as everything from contemporary art to abstract expressionism to pop art.

"A person desires to be understood," he said. "And, the further I went with art, the better I felt."

He also said "to communicate through my hands, to associate a physicality that goes further than my jaw, feels more relevant in a constantly changing environment."

He also found excitement in the discovery that his artistic expression could speak for him as talking does for others, he added.

"To be able to work freely, to have a nonlinear perspective, to feel outside of time is exhilarating," Mills said.

And it is that experience that Diaz is hoping to capture during the exhibition by gauging opinion from viewers on Mills' paintings.

Diaz came up with three questions to ask the public: provide a title for the painting; describe how the painting makes them feel in one or two words; write three to five sentences describing their interpretation of the painting.

"Davin is a community-based, social art practitioner," said Peter Christenson, curator of the WSU Tri-Cities art center. "Social art often allows community participants to determine and dictate the dynamics of the exhibit and the trajectory of the art itself."

Davin also plans to interview some people who visit the exhibit and then weave those responses into a documentary film he is making about Mills and his artwork. A trailer on the film showing Mills creating his art can be viewed on YouTube by searching for the names Diaz and Mills.

Diaz is a graduate of California State University, San Bernardino. He moved to the Tri-Cities in 2007. He has been a project manager for two Tri-City art installations -- the family unit sculpture on Clover Island in Kennewick and the Martin Luther King Jr. mural at Columbia Basin College in Pasco. He also owns Candy Mountain Studio in West Richland.

-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com

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