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Artist Diana Ferguson says "The Night Circus," an 18- by 24-inch acrylic, is one of her favorite pieces. "Perhaps it is because of my love affair with deep blue ... maybe because I love a simple pure image." The animal in the bottom left corner is "kind of between a horse and a dog" and represents "unconditional acceptance." That the creature seems to be "photo-bombing" the image just adds to the piece's fun spirit, she says. (Photos from Diana Ferguson)

If you go

› What: “Simple Expressions” by Diana Ferguson.

› When: Through Wednesday, Jan. 16. Open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.

› Where: ArtCrafters Gallery, 1356 Market St. Dayton, Tennessee.

› Phone: 423-775-1401.

› Website: www.artcraftersdayton.com.

It shouldn't be hard to find the paintings by Sweetwater, Tennessee, artist Diana Ferguson at ArtCrafters Gallery in Dayton, Tennessee. Their bold colors practically glow in the dark.

That guiding light is a hallmark of her paintings, she says.

"I do things that aren't so bold [too], but I just love color," she says. "I love texture, and I love intricate designs. Even when I'm trying to be a little more quiet with them, I tend to go to the bold side. It's part of who I am and the style that I have."

Another guiding principle is the belief that children benefit from the arts. She had little exposure to art as a youngster, she says, and had never considered painting as a career option.

"I never had any art classes in school, and it wasn't until I went back after having children in my early 30s to pursue fashion design and I had to take an art class" that she realized she could work as an artist.

"When I took that art class, I knew that's what I was supposed to do," she says. "It's one reason I'm such a proponent for art in school. I graduated with a degree in fine art when I turned 40."

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"Families," a 30- by 40-inch acrylic painting, pays respect to "all the animal kingdom and their 'families,'" says artist Diana Ferguson. "The father image on the left is revering the small offspring of the bird in the right corner. Home and family is definitely a cornerstone in my work." (Photos from Diana Ferguson)

That was more than two decades ago, and she has been pursuing the beauty in expression ever since.

First by sharing her talents with children. After her graduation from Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, Ferguson taught art in public schools for eight years, "until I could paint full-time."

Her work has been shown in Switzerland, South Africa and England, she says, and she completed an artist residency in Hungary.

The international mindset is nothing new for this resident of small-town Sweetwater. Her father was in the Army, so travel was normal. She was born in Germany of American parents. Her husband was born in Brazil of American parents. They met in Florida, which neither particularly liked, and eventually retired to East Tennessee.

Her works on view at ArtCrafters, extended through Jan. 16, are part of a series she calls The Village.

"I believe artists reflect their times, and art reflects its time," she says. "A village is a place where you can find kindness and love and respect and calm, which is the very antithesis of what America is right now."

Her village, she says, "exalts the family. Home and family is definitely a cornerstone of my work."

Ferguson maintains a blog, https://difergi.blogspot.com, in which she narrates her progress on her latest projects, a process she describes as "wandering on a road to an unknown destination."

Wanderings, perhaps, but she has found landmarks in her bright, bold images along the way.

Curators at ArtCrafters say her work is "whimsical," that it "evokes joy with a spirit of playfulness" and that it's her passion "to take simple shapes and give them life and let them tell a story."

Ferguson says she typically works in acrylics, with an occasional mixed-media piece. She tends to work "kind of large, 30 by 40 [inches] and bigger," with occasional smaller pieces." My people are, most of the time, androgynous," she says. Skin tones and hair colors might be natural or pink or green.

"Yes, my works can be 'weird,'" she says in her blog, "but weird makes you ponder. I like that."

The point is to engage viewers with the stories they bring to the image. Instead of just being an object to view, she explains, "narrative art is an invitation to stop and create your own story."

"I like to say I use simple forms for complex thoughts," she says. "Even though they come across as simple and happy, there's meaning and thought behind them."

Contact Lisa Denton at ldenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6281.

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Diana Ferguson says she completed this painting, "We Are the Village," for "a special group of friends who are truly 'the village that raises the child.' They are bonded together by their sisterhood, morals and commitment to their families." (Photos from Diana Ferguson)
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