Robin Holder

Lisa E. Farrington, Ph.D.

Holder next traveled to Mexico, where she immersed herself in Mexicanidad aesthetics5, in particular those of Los Tres Grandes—the three great Mexican muralists—Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, whose varying commitments to socialism dovetailed with Holder's own philosophical leanings. Like the Mexican muralists, Holder believed that the goals of art and artists should be sociopolitical as well as aesthetic. The realities of American race politics and her political upbringing helped to reinforce this principle.6 Another influential source for the artist's commitment to social politics was the African American sculptor and printmaker Elizabeth Catlett (b. 1915), with whose work and reputation Holder was familiar at the time. As an American expatriate in Mexico who married and raised her children there, as a member of the socialist print workshop Taller Grafica Popular, and as a leader of the 1970s Black Arts Movement, Catlett shared much in common, philosophically and logistically, with the younger Holder.7

In Mexico, Holder (like Catlett) met her husband, the Ecuadorian geologist Enrique Luna. For a time, Holder remained an expatriate herself, living in Mexico, Ecuador, and finally in Holland, where she joined the Werkgroep Uit Het Amsterdam Grafisch Atelier, an Amsterdam-based printmaking workshop where Holder honed her skills in black and white lithography before returning to New York in 1977.8 Holder next joined the celebrated workshop of African American printmaking master Robert Blackburn (1920-2003), a friend of her mother's, whom the artist had known since she was a child.9 Blackburn himself was a product of the Art Students League, as well as of the Harlem Renaissance and its historic Works Progress Administration [WPA] Harlem Art Center. Holder remained with the Blackburn studio for over a decade, serving as a member-artist, as Community Outreach Coordinator, and as Program Director.10

During her tenure with Blackburn, Holder had the privilege of working alongside Catlett, Mel Edwards, Emma Amos, Vincent Smith, Vivian Brown, Benny Andrews, and many other contemporary artists. Within this provocative milieu, Holder was able to develop a unique printmaking technique, including the use of non-traditional stencil materials with Plexiglass and by using conventional tools in her own inventive manner.

Holder's chief medium was, and remains, the stencil monotype which allows for visually stunning works of art. She prefers a tiered approach, layering subtle, often translucent colors, forms, textures and vignettes, one over the other. Her formal means have been compared to those of Harlem Renaissance painter, Aaron Douglas (1898-1979), whose restrained palette, layering of semi-transparent two-dimensional forms, and emphasis on bold silhouettes (rooted in African art and Synthetic Cubism) bears some resemblance to Holder's work. However, Holder's contours tend to be organic in the manner of Art Nouveau, rather than hard-edged and angular; and she invariably enlivens the two-dimensionality of her compositions with modeled elements and variegated surfaces.11

One of Holder's earliest and most ambitious endeavors, "Warrior Women Wizards: Mystical Magical Mysteries" is a monotype series to which the artist devoted some two decades of her creative energies beginning in 1985; and which is surprisingly consistent in conception despite the expanse of years dedicated to the cycle. Lush in palette, "Warrior Women" indulges viewers with both thought-provoking imagery and stunning print techniques, including linocut, stencil printing on Plexiglass, photo silkscreen, and collagraphy. The nearly forty compositions in the series depict women in various states of empowerment. Paying homage to the characteristics of courage and inquisitiveness, which Holder feels are integral to all powerful women, the compositions ensconce their "warrior women" within a cloche of flora and fauna—a trilogy designed to highlight the connective disjuncture that exists between human beings and the natural world.12

For Holder, animal and plant images signify the ability of God's creatures to "live on earth in accordance with the natural order of things"—a state of being to which Holder feels humans should aspire.13 In Holder's estimation, Post-Industrial technological advancements, despite having the potential and promise to enrich our lives and planet, have been manipulated to foster war, greed, alienation, and ecological destruction.14 To illustrate the need for a return to environmental and spiritual harmony, Holder incorporates into "Warrior Women" archetypal African, Aztec, and Native American symbols such as shields, spears, pyramids, and masks, as symbols of societies that exist in accord with both the material and immaterial universes.