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A creative outpouring: Turning a mess into art

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Diana McShane loves to make a mess.

When she’s in the spare room in her Riverdale apartment that she’s transformed into an art studio, McShane is not afraid to let loose with her work. She turns up her psychedelic rock playlist and creates her art using a technique known as “acrylic pouring,” where acrylic paint is mixed with another pouring medium like glue or oil to help paint flow and blend with other colors.

A few hours and a mess later, McShane is done, letting her new creation dry for the next three days. This work and others are all part of “Cells of Psychedelia,” an exhibition on display at An Beal Bocht Café through Aug. 31.

Art always has been a part of McShane’s life, but she only discovered acrylic pouring about four or five months ago.

“I was kind of just messing around one day,” she said.

That mess created something McShane loved, and has since found ways to mix the acrylic with other liquids like silicone and Rain-X, a product normally used on car windshields.

“It’s fun because you get to play around and you get to see the different effects,” McShane said. “You can have one painting that comes out a certain way when it’s wet, and then it dries and it looks completely different.”

Having a psychedelic rock playlist on in the background while she works is not a passive choice for McShane. This particular music genre is something she and her husband Chris love. The two regularly go to concerts to watch bands like Radiohead, and those visuals tend to inspire McShane’s work.

Some of her pieces are even named after particular songs she enjoys, like Prince’s “Purple Rain.”

Seeing her work on display at An Beal this month has been surreal for McShane, especially since she’s a regular patron at the 445 W. 238th St., restaurant and bar.

“I never thought I’d be able to do this in this space,” McShane said. “I’ve been coming here for 12 years and seeing other artists and admiring their work. So it’s been a treat.”

McShane also can’t stop staring at her work when she walks in.

“Seeing it all on the wall has been beautiful,” she said.

Although McShane has given some of her paintings to friends and family for free, she’s already sold 14 of the ones currently on display.

“The most exciting part of all of this is knowing that my pieces are going to be in people’s homes,” McShane said. “That’s so special to me.”

But even if people don’t end up buying her work, McShane hopes people who look at have a positive response.

“Color makes me very happy,” she said. “I’m hoping it makes other people happy.”

When McShane reflects on her experience so far with acrylic pouring, it’s left her learning things like always washing things immediately. It’s also taught her the power of trial and error when it comes to making art.

“You get better by doing it more,” McShane said. “You can go to classes, you can go to school as much as you want. But you’re only going to really improve if you keep going, keep doing it, and keep messing up and learning from those mistakes.”

Even though she’s nailed down a routine to work on her acrylic pouring, it doesn’t mean McShane has completely perfected the technique.

“I wish I could paint something that looks like what it’s supposed to look like,” she said, “but I’m better with the crazy mess.”

But McShane doesn’t mind, especially because it’s the act of sitting in her makeshift studio, listening to music and creating that helps her unwind.

“It really feels more like just having fun,” McShane said.

“It doesn’t feel like work, that’s for sure.”

McShane plans to take her artistic skills to the next level by trying to learn new mediums of art while improving in others, like pottery.

“I’m hooked now,” she said. “I just want to keep going.”

McShane also wants to volunteer for BxArts Factory, a nonprofit with the mission to make art accessible to everyone in the Bronx, where she can pass on her acrylic pouring knowledge to others.

“I want to try and find a spot where I can volunteer my time and teach other people how to do it,” she said. “I think it’s really relaxing, and I think more people than you would think enjoy making a mess.”

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