The woman who painted Chambers Street

From her front windows on Chambers Street, Dianne Talan can stick her head out the window and see a potential canvas stretching east and west. And that has been her MO since she moved to the block in 1980, painting the passers-by and the storefronts, the lights and the shadows of the neighborhood, from Greenwich Street to the East River.

Talan has the windows now at the Western Union building, so you can see some in person on West Broadway. And these are just the latest in a long career that includes teaching at Cooper Union, one-woman shows, commissions and a bit of activism. For us in Tribeca, her work serves as a timeline for a changing neighborhood.

“I’ve pretty much stuck to what I go by all the time,” Talan says. “And as soon as I paint it, it changes.”

Talan came to the city off a year-long grant in Rome in 1967, having graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design; her first studio was Frank Stella’s old space in Soho, but I will let Dianne tell it:

I rented a studio on the corner of Broome and West Broadway (the southwest corner) above the Purity Lunch for $50 a month from Nick and Vovo Vallas. He told me it had been Frank Stella’s studio and there was no living there and he had kicked Stella out for living there. Many years later Stella verified the fact that Nick Vallas had chased him with a meat cleaver for ‘living’ there. Anyway I lived in the Hotel Albert on 10th and University. Now the Albert Condominium but then the place that all the musicians who gigged at The Electric Circus stayed.

I then moved to living/working on the southeast corner (495 Broome) — 3000 square feet that, in an L shape, wrapped around the Broome Street Bar’s top floor. Illegal. I was there till 1978 and then moved to the American Thread. Also illegal.

It was at American Thread where she got political, organizing 30 or so artists plus a few businesses into a group she called FATBAC — Foundation in the American Thread of the Business and Arts Community —  to defend their right to be there. They lost that battle, but as Dianne said, they won the war when she was brought on to the staff of the Department of Cultural Affairs in 1980 and organized a letter-writing campaign that resulted in a moratorium on evictions for artists.

“Between you and me I am NOT a trouble maker — I just fought for something I believed in,” Dianne says now. “It happened to irk real estate interests but it certainly did not stop those wheels from moving on and on. It did not stop me from painting either.”

That year she moved in to her boyfriend’s loft on Chambers Street. She and Dean Aronson have been married for 39 years.

In 2011, Dianne did a bit of guerilla art by painting the panels of the construction fences that hid the work to replace the water mains along Chambers, keeping one eye on the oncoming traffic as she added scenes. (Her mural of Mudville’s funky pink façade earned her a tab that took two years to drink off.) The Department of Design and Construction loved her work so much, they commissioned her to create an additional 280 feet more of paintings, which she completed in 8-foot sections inside her studio. They would eventually follow the construction east to Broadway and south to Trinity Church. For that work she would be honored during Women’s History Month for her “unconventional contribution to construction.”

 

“The DDC commissioner said to me, ‘You know, we put this screens up to hide what’s going on behind them but you’re painting it,'” Talan recalls. “It’s perverse, but I think it’s beautiful. People think it’s dirty and ugly, but I think it’s amazing.”

 

 

2 Comments

  1. I went to RISD with the inimitable Diane Talan. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this wonderful story about a true New York genius.

  2. Wonderful story and profile. Thank you!!

Comment: