“An Artist from Day One” Diana Postel’s First Thursday

By Jeff Wing   |   April 9, 2024
Diana Postel, the consummate artist (courtesy photo)

Deepest childhood is sometimes recalled as a shadowy dreamscape daubed with startling bursts of color. From that protean sub-basement “mother” ascends the stairs into the light, smiling that smile, and so forth. It’s complicated, as they say. We think of Mom and language fails, obliging us to fall back on gauzy flowers and little heart-shaped candies. “There was zero desire to fit in or to kiss anyone’s ass,” Steve Postell says of his own mother, lifelong artist and light-bending dynamo Diana Postel. “She was an artist from day one. She was a true free spirit. She did not suffer fools. She didn’t try to be something she wasn’t. She lived a very pure kind of existence, with a lot of integrity and on her own path. It was very inspiring for us. Yeah.” 

Diana Postel: Celebrating a Life in Art

Suzan, who will also be performing at tonight’s opening

I’m talking to Steve and his sister Suzan, both of them celebrated artists – and present-day emissaries of the worldview their mother gifted them by simply living it with an unfussy clarity that gave them both an unerring magnetic north. The occasion is the opening reception of Diana Postel: Celebrating a Life in Art – a monthlong exhibit in the Funk Zone’s inimitable gallery/communal living room Art & Soul (116 Santa Barbara St., Santa Barbara, CA) – itself a mother-daughter partnership and an airy, light-filled nexus of color, creativity, gab, and comfy chairs. 

The reception runs from 5 – 8 pm on the evening of Thursday, April 4th; better known as TONIGHT, dear reader; *IF you had the wherewithal to pick up the only news and arts journal that matters on the very day it hit the stands. Steve and Suzan will be performing at the reception, which will also feature libations, canapés, and other augments to an evening of right brain effulgence. There, I said it. And somewhere beyond the ceiling, the stars – distant bales of fire, if you can believe it – will be doing their thing. The light and color suffusing the evening will incandesce from many sources – an incandescence that was Diana Postel’s raison d’être, and her nourishment. She was pure expression. 

“She was such a consummate, pure artist,” Steve says, “that the idea of promoting herself – I just think in her mind it was ‘sure, I’ll have a show once, but it takes away from my painting.’ It really wasn’t what she was about. And so Sue and I are here with these hundreds and hundreds of just spectacular pieces of art. She wasn’t going to really make this push, but we feel like people should see this work and own it and put it in their walls.” Her work suggests Matisse in the warmth and forward frankness of its palette. But the work is uniquely and utterly Diana’s in its spirited sense of contained energy; an energy Diana herself radiated, however calmly. In Steve and Suzan that energy is still on the move; they are its superconductors. In their collective childhood, their mother’s actionable notion that living is itself a creative project was always in the air. It was the air. 


“It was really just a way of life,” Suzan says of her upbringing. “She put me in dancing school when I was four years old, because she said as soon as I could walk, I kind of walked with my arms out like this.” Later, there would be family room terpsichore, mom and daughter casually communing through separate disciplines. “I was always dancing around the house and choreographing, and my mom would sit while I was dancing in the living room, and she would draw.” Suzan would surprise herself with spontaneous moves and gestures she would try to recreate. “I’d do something and go, ‘oh, what what’d I just do? I liked it.’ And my mom would say ‘… when you went over to that part of the room, your arm went up like that, and your leg made this angle…’ She always had the artist’s eye. And so she would describe my move and I’d say, ‘oh, right! okay… yeah, I remember…’ And my mother would lower her head and get back to her drawing.”

An Abstract Landscape by Diana Postel

Over time, the Postel household vibe made it the preferred gathering place of Steve and Suzan’s pals. “Our friends really flocked to our house,” Suzan says. “I mean, they really responded to our parents.” For all that, the home vibe didn’t strike Steve as exceptional till sometime later. “When you’re a kid that’s just the way it is. You don’t know any different, you don’t question it. I think it was more when I went out in the world that I realized, ‘oh – everybody isn’t so artistic and so free thinking.”

Tranquility at Ground Zero

Impresario by Diana Postel

Chicago born, Diana Postel began her training at The Art Institute of Chicago, then snagged her master’s in philosophy and literary criticism from the University of Chicago, studying for a time under Norman Maclean; a major literary figure whose late period novella A River Runs Through It captured the world. Moving to New York, Diana had a career in journalism and publishing at Newsday and The New York Herald Tribune, and the publishing house Doubleday. When Steve and Suzan came along, she pivoted back to art, and in a cozy little art hamlet called Manhattan. “She started getting on her bicycle every day,” Steve says “and riding her bike through the city streets down to Carnegie Hall, where she had a studio for painting. And that’s where she encountered Norman Raeben.” The near-legendary Raeben is known in some circles as “the art teacher who changed the way Bob Dylan made music.” Steve will explain if you can corner him. 

Diana left us in 2020. In a manner of speaking. Hang around Steve and Suzan for a minute and you’ll have your doubts about Diana having gone anywhere. Do that at the Art & Soul tonight and the Diana Effect – in song, in color, in vibrant, roiling life – will have you in its embrace. 

Diana Postel’s creative empathies may have reached beatific apogee in the throes of cataclysm. “She had an exhibit that was scheduled to open on 9/11,” Suzan says, “which obviously didn’t happen that day. But when they did open it, I spent a lot of time there. It was a couple of blocks away from St. Vincent’s Hospital – which was one of the hospitals just papered with pictures of people who’d been lost. It was really a neighborhood in mourning and people walking around in a daze. They would wander into this gallery, and they would just sit – and the thing that they said over and over was, this is an oasis.” Suzan pauses. “To see that – to see that anything could lift the spirit of people in that moment, give them a feeling of tranquility at that horrendous time – that was really a powerful thing.”

Diana Postel: Celebrating a Life in Art opening reception will be at Art & Soul (116 Santa Barbara St.) tonight, Thursday, April 4, from 5 – 8 pm, and on display through April.

In last week’s feature “More to the Y than Meets the Eye,” Pope Francis was described as being Brazilian. The Pope was in fact born in Argentina. We regret the error.


You might also be interested in...