Befriending the Rock
Discovering rock climbing in the Cobre Mountains

Wild Kingdom
Wildlife rescuer and wrangler Dennis Miller

Sentimental Journey
The Hi Lo Silvers women's chorus hits 10 years of high notes

The ugly, the bad and the good

Man on a Mission
Exclusive interview with outgoing WNMU President John Counts


Columns and Departments
Editor's Note
Desert Diary
Ramblin' Outdoors
The Starry Dome
Guides to Go
Henry Lightcap's Journal
Continental Divide

Special Sections

40 Days & 40 Nights
The To-Do List

Red or Green

Tre Rosat Café
Dining Guide
Table Talk

Arts Exposure

Bob Diven
Public Hanging
Arts Scene
Gallery Guide

Body, Mind & Spirit

Magic of Munching

About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e  May 2011

Jackrabbit of All Trades

Las Cruces artist (and actor and mail-order minister and…)
Bob Diven finds himself "vastly overqualified" for his life.

by Jeff Berg

Bob Diven, this issue's cover artist, whom you may know best from his editorial cartoons in the Sun-News, is certainly the personification of the starving artist.

Diven sitting in front of "Play Ball," oil on canvas (in the collection of The Community Action Agency of Southern New Mexico).

"I live in an adobe hovel with no shower," he volunteers.

"Currently, I'm more or less living off the money I received from a rear-end collision on Christmas Eve," he volunteers again.

And this is curious news, since Diven is so remarkably talented in so many ways when it comes to the arts. His wide-ranging array of talents is nearly endless and I had always thought that through his art he could make at least a halfway decent living. But that appears not to be the case.

Need a photographer? Diven does that. Mostly unique portrait shots, but he does have a few ongoing projects, including a brace of photos where the subjects are all women over the age of 40.

Sculpting? Not a problem. Diven designed one of the clever and artistic city bus stops for Las Cruces, "Celebrate." Along with such completed works, he has a couple of projects in mind, one of which is a sculpture of a large cow with its middle replaced by the popular Zia symbol. "New MexiCow," as the project is called, could reside on top of Las Cruces' new convention center, Diven suggests.

There is also his temporarily stalled "Billy the Kid Building" project, wherein a 60-foot statue of Kid would grace the outside of a building in downtown Las Cruces. The building would be home to many things Billy, but would also offer space for shops, a café or two and a Billy the Kid museum and gift shop.

Need someone to launch beanbag rats across a city park? Diven is your man. Although this "project" was retired for several years, "Ratcatcher Robert" hauled out the trebuchet for last autumn's Renaissance Artsfaire, catapulting fake rats and perhaps seasonal orange garden products into low orbit to the delight of the crowd.

"I'm vastly overqualified for my life," Diven says with a glance of humor. But it might also be true.

"How did I get to Las Cruces?" Diven repeats my question. It turns out to be a short story.

Diven is originally from Oregon, Ill., about 90 miles west-northwest of Chicago, not far from where I was raised, in Barrington, Ill. Diven is quite sure he recalls one of the few things I've never been able to find information about on the Internet — an old drive-in restaurant called Tub-O-Shake. Although he was only five when he left Illinois, Diven is pretty sure he recalls T-O-S, because on a trip back to his old home, years later, he wanted to go to the Dog-n-Suds, which is apparently what T-O-S became or was at one time. He adds sadly, "But whichever it was, neither are there now."

Back to his arrival in Las Cruces: "In 1964, my dad came here to enroll in a Master's Degree program at NMSU. He was an English and drama teacher on sabbatical and looking for a way to get out of small-town life."

Las Cruces wasn't exactly a metropolis back then, either, but the Divens settled here, and 46 years later, most of the family is still around. The senior Diven passed away a few years ago, but Diven's mom and two brothers, Jack and Ben, remain rooted here. His mom, now 92, Diven says, lives on her own, still drives, and is "as fierce as ever."

Diven has never married, noting that "the right girl hasn't asked me yet," and hence has no kids.

Need a husband or steady beau?

A stint in the Coast Guard is part of his past, but his need to create has always overruled his need for money or mountains of things, so "regular" jobs are not really part of Diven's resume. He does, however, know blacksmithing, how to make body armor (the medieval kind) and how to make adobe bricks, in case you are in need.

He has done a few short non-art stints along the way, but he says, "I really like being an artist. This is my 30th year as a professional artist."

Need an actor? Diven is available. Recently, he had a lead role in a locally shot low-budget feature film, Bomb Squad, in which he may have had some supernatural powers.

"I believed that myself," he says when asked about his role in the film, "so much so, that after the premiere, I tried to walk through a door, but found out I was not so equipped."

Not confined to film, although he has just completed his first screenplay, Diven also works in and on local live productions and has written and performed in a number of local plays. He also has a number of short YouTube films posted.

A few years ago, he even did a small national tour with John Singer Sargent: Painting Madame X, a one-man show on which he collaborated with another local celebrity, writer, director and playwright Mark Medoff.

How about a musician? Diven writes songs and composes for "theater, film, orchestra and band," while also being quite versed on the guitar and the bodhran, a traditional Celtic drum. Another of his more popular works is a narrated orchestral piece, "The Dawn of the Dinosaurs." The large reptiles are a favorite subject of Diven's, and appear as whimsy, here and there.

"I get nervous," Diven reveals, when asked why he remains in Las Cruces. "I think I should go to New York but I have a bit of anxiety from the happiness I get from my local support system. I think, maybe my audience is in Las Cruces, but I'd love to go someplace else to do a show. I'd love to do a show on Broadway, or have something in the New Yorker, but am I too comfortable here?

"Part of it is because I'm a small-town kid. My mom's side of the family was ‘important' in their community and my grandfather and his friends helped build the town country club. My mom was a champion golfer at Arizona State and was on the women's pro tour, too. My dad was from a small town as well, so I know from a fundamental level that I like being in a small town — and I'm not sure if there is room to escape that."

Diven remains torn between continuing to expose his unique talents to an often appreciative local audience or to take the risk that others will see the value of some of his uncountable talents elsewhere.

He did make a foray to Atlanta once for a failed film project. In 2003, as he puts it, "I ran away from home" and made the big move to Denver.

"While I was in Denver, I did temp work for the Denver Center Theatre Company, but also tried to replicate what I had in Las Cruces — a small community."

"Donut Whole, Wichita," oil on canvas.

It worked for a while, and it was in Denver, apparently, where he first discovered street art, and started to do chalk art, even winning awards at the Denver Chalk Art Show.

But the call and security of Las Cruces was too hard to resist, as he returned perhaps a year later. Besides bringing home fresh ideas, Diven continued with chalk art, which he now does on a weekly basis on the sidewalks during the downtown Las Cruces Farmers Market each Saturday.

"Everybody stops there, and people really appreciate seeing it happen. It's kind of a high-wire act," he says. (Acrobat is not, however, among Diven's skills — yet). "The theme part of the work is recognizable in short order. Sometimes the ‘punch line' comes from standers-by or people passing by offering a subject. Some of the ideas I use are more popular than others, and people will say ‘thanks for doing it' or ‘thanks for being here.'



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