Connecting the dots

Bangkok-based US artist Amy Diener talks to Life about her distinctive style

Above  Diener is known for her distinctive use of dots. (Photos courtesy of Amy Diener)

Entering Amy Diener's apartment is like entering an art gallery. There, she exhibits her art, and no space on the walls is left clear. What connects the works? Dots. You can call Diener "The Dot Girl", as her art is mainly created by dots. Lots of them. And each one is perfectly drawn.

"I have a history of suffering from OCD [obsessive compulsive disorder] and making art has been a creative and therapeutic outlet for me," she says.

Diener, 28, a native of New York, arrived in Thailand six years ago to work as an art teacher at an international school in Bangkok. But she quickly established herself as an artist in her own right.

Diener is holding a one-day exhibit on Saturday. Ahead of this event, Life sat down with the artist to discuss her work, her inspirations and coping with OCD.

In the past few years you have become known as 'The Dot Girl'. How did this start?

Four years ago, while I was dating my artist partner, these tiny little dots started emerging in my paintings. It just was naturally happening. Then when we broke up, I was so depressed for six months. This was my first heartbreak. I literally couldn't sleep past 4am, no matter how hard I tried. My insomnia was horrible. I didn't feel I could even paint. Nothing brought me joy anymore. So I tried experimenting within the arts more, to see if I could rediscover my love for art. I had an intensive arts masters programme and my teacher at the time loved the dots in my paintings. He said, 'Why not just focus on them and see what happens?'. So I did, and the magic unfolded!

A work by Amy Diener. Photos courtesy of Amy Diener

Why dots?

I can't really articulate why they emerged in my paintings in the first place. However, once I started to observe the dots in my art, I realised that it was my favourite technique and I became obsessed. I began to research contemporary artists who use dots in their paintings, such as Yayoi Kusama, Elspeth McLean and Barbara Takenaga. Cultures such as Australia, Indonesia, Mexico, Africa and Europe [pointillism] all use dots in their artwork. However, I am not directly influenced by their style. For me, dots are aesthetically pleasing and decorative in nature.

However, it is the process of painting dots that is significant to me. [It] is very repetitive and requires a lot of focus. It is a mindful practice, where I can be fully present and aware in the moment. Each dot is created by dipping and dropping acrylic paint. There is no swirling action, it just requires a perfect consistency of paint, a small round paintbrush and lots of focus and patience. I paint dot by dot, one by one, love by love.

Another theme in your art is the mandala. Can you tell us more about it?

[My ex] had a love for mandalas. He taught me about them, and I experienced the passion and joy he received from creating mandala paintings. So, I guess, in a way, I was inspired by him to start off with. Mandalas are one of my favourite subject matters to explore. The process of creating a mandala is also a Zen experience, helping lower stress and anxiety. When I combine dots and mandalas together, it provides me with even more healing experiences. My goal is to turn my suffering from OCD into artworks that are beautiful and inspirational.

Would you say your attraction to dots and mandalas is a result of your OCD?

I am obsessed. However, not in the way obsessions occur in OCD. OCD causes a lot of pain and suffering, and the mandala dot painting elevates a lot of my suffering. So in a way, it does the opposite -- it's very healing. It's a coping mechanism and I love it.

Tell us more about your OCD.

My childhood and teenage years were relatively anxiety-free. However, around the age of 18, I started developing symptoms. OCD is a type of anxiety involving obsessive thoughts in the mind, triggering compulsions -- repeated conscious behaviours that help to alleviate anxiety from the thoughts. For example, I would become super anxious when I thought I had forgotten something, or I would obsess thinking my hands weren't clean enough, or that I didn't wash my entire body, or thinking objects might get damaged if they touch each other. Therefore, in order to get rid of these thoughts, I had to engage in repeated behaviours, otherwise known as compulsions. This included repeated hand washing and bathing, and attempting to place objects close to each other without actually touching.

It was a horrible feeling. I was embarrassed to talk about it with family or friends and hid the truth for years, but eventually shared it with my partner at the time and my mother, and they supported me in seeking professional help.

I started OCD therapy using the ERP [Exposure Response Prevention] method which forces you to face your fears head on, 'exposing' you to your obsessions and 'preventing' or delaying you from engaging in the compulsive ritual. Along with seeing a therapist, I used painting as a way to alleviate anxiety, turning my suffering into something beautiful and inspirational. My mission is to give back to the OCD community, and therefore I am donating a portion of my painting sales to the International OCD Foundation.

Amy Diener. Photos courtesy of Amy Diener

Can you tell us about your inspirations?

I specialise in vibrant paintings inspired by colours and patterns from my travel encounters. My art also draws influence from sacred geometry, the Fibonacci sequence and the cosmic world.

What do you do when you are not in the studio or at school?

I'm honestly mostly painting or teaching art, but in whatever free time I have, I like to go to the gym. My favourite activities are dancing, such as Latin and street dance, as well as aerial yoga. I've been practising aerial for the last few years -- it's both super fun and challenging!

You're originally from New York. In what way is it different to Bangkok?

Both Bangkok and NYC have the influence of different cultures within a very populated space. However, there are many differences. The high rise buildings in Bangkok are actually higher than most buildings in NYC. Bangkok is a lot cheaper than NYC -- like a lot! They have completely different vibes and that's hard to articulate in words.

What do you miss most from New York?

I miss the vibrancy, energy and most of all, the incredible art scene and culture: the musicians in the subway, the art on every corner. I miss my friends and family.

What were you like as a child? And what did you think you'd do when you were grown up?

I was a very hardworking kid. I danced and made art a lot, and enjoyed my childhood. I actually thought I would be a teacher!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

A very successful commercial artist. I'd love to be able to make passive income from licensing my artwork on multiple products. I would love to live in different countries at different times of the year, maybe have an apartment in a few different cities worldwide.


For more details about the exhibition's venue and RSVP, email info@amydiener.com.