Phenonmena: A Snapshot of David Diao

David Diao is a Chinese-American artist whose artistic career spans more than 50 years. Diao’s work has been defined as encompassing lyrical abstraction, hard-edge painting, and pop-art. With a career beginning in the 1960’s, it is impressive that Diao continues to be a prolific contributor well into his 70’s. 

Diao had a tumultuous childhood from which he draws inspiration. Diao’s grandparents were on the losing side of the rising Communist Party in China. As a result, Diao and his grandparents fled Chengdu, China in 1949 to Hong Kong, one of the Nationalist Party’s last strongholds outside Mainland China. At this time, he was separated from his mother and siblings who fled to his maternal grandparents home, as well as his father who was studying in the United States. While reuniting with his father six years later in 1955 at the age of 12, he did not reunite with his siblings and mother until he was 30. In recent years, Diao has drawn inspiration from this period of his life. For example, Attempts to reflect this part of Diao’s life has emerged in his artwork in recent years. One show in particular, I lived there until I was 6, revisits aspects of Diao’s life. 


According to a 2015 interview, Diao used the size of a tennis court at his former home in Chengdu to provide spatial recognition to the home that him and his family left behind. As he mentions in this interview, “measurements are of a tennis court are constant”. Using the measurements of the tennis court, Diao rebuilt a scaled image of his former home, with assistance from his aunts and uncles. What emerged was the blueprint below with the tennis court at the bottom center. 

As with most artists, Diao was heavily influenced by other artists of his time. Diao considers Barnett Newman a hero. Newman, an abstract expressionism artist, was well known for his simple, yet congruent imagery. Newman’s entire career is captured in a piece by Diao called Barnett Newman, The Paintings in Scale. In this painting, Diao distills Newman’s lifetime of work, scaled down to their geometric shape and represented in a timeline. His homage to Newman, is captured in the image below.

What I enjoy most about Diao’s work is the obsession with congruency in shapes and color selections. There is an unexplainable symmetry or balance in the shapes in his pieces that are unobtrusive—they almost welcome the viewer into the piece rather than being loud and frightening. Furthermore, his color choices evoke a feeling in me that make me nod my head in agreement and say, ‘that is the perfect interaction of colors and balance of the main object to the background’.  A collection of Diao’s work can be online at the Office Baroque or Postmasters