Dietrich Sieling – Artist First

by Reggie Prim

“Never let anyone define what you are capable of by using parameters that don’t apply to you.” —Chuck Close

In 2009 Minneapolis-based writer Susannah Schouweiler wrote of Dietrich Sieling’s work: “His drawings are marked by their intricate pattern-work, a conjunction of human and animal forms, and his wonderfully weird play with perspective and text.” And that his work felt to her “too fully realized, too consistent in their visual motifs and artistic vision, to be the work of someone just 21 years old.” She also remarked “Sieling’s artwork has already sparked the interest of prominent art collectors and garnered a fair amount of positive critical attention.”

That was six years ago. Mr. Sieling, now 27, has continued to be an extraordinarily productive artist, and has since 2009 participated in four group exhibits and three solo exhibits, including a a two-person museum show, ‘VIVID’, at the Plains Art Museum In 2014.He continues to explore his signature graphic style, to transform his experiences and fascinations into mesmerizing tableaux that pulsate with color, form and rhythm.

“Dietrich is fascinated by what he likes and what he fears.” Says gallerist, Todd Bockley. His work brims with animals that frighten and attract him – bees, dogs and owls are terrifying, while kudus, zebras, and giraffes are beloved. His friends, family and self are also important subjects in his work and he paints and draws them with loving attention. He is also inspired by fellow artists and musicians such as Jim Denomie, Angelena and Korla Luckeroth, Michael Gaughan (Brother and Sister, Ice Rod) Markus Lunkenheimer (Skoal Kodiac) Andy Fritz, (Tender Meat) and Melodious Owl.

Many artists have worked against limitations, quirks of character, accidents of birth and vagaries of circumstance to create celebrated bodies of work. In centuries and decades past it was perhaps not as fashionable as it is now to primarily classify an artist by their genetic or cultural heritage. In fact, in time these details are often forgotten or ignored. Particularly, if they are not explicitly part of the artist’s subject matter. Only secondarily, and as curious biographical footnotes are we asked to consider Toulouse-Lautrec’s dwarfism, Chuck Close’s dyslexia, or Frida Kahlo’s polio in examining their work. Likewise, the fact that Dietrich Sieling was diagnosed at three years of age with autism is curious and surprising, but only marginally informs his artistic work.

Todd Bockley, who represents Sieling, says that, “Dietrich’s autism isn’t what interests me. His work grabbed my attention before I knew anything about his personal history. I was immediately taken with his work. I knew, the moment I saw it, that this was an artist I wanted to work with.” Filmmaker Shelli Ainsworth, the artist’s mother, is unequivocal, “He is an artist first.”

—September 2, 2014

Reggie Prim is an independent curator and writer. He organized Dietrich Sieling: Artist, a solo exhibit of the artist’s work shown in 2012 at The Center for Changing Lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.