In Her Own Words:

A Conversation with Artist Robin Holder and Curator Dorit Yaron

DY: An American Consciousness is your first retrospective exhibition, but you've been exhibited around the country and especially in New York City for more than three decades. You had some solo exhibitions and quite a lot of group exhibitions. What does it mean for you to work with other artists; to exhibit your art with the art of others?

RH: Exhibiting is, most of the time, a difficult experience for me. It's exciting, but there are a lot of reasons why it's difficult. One reason is that usually between the time that you finish a series of work and the time that it's exhibited for the first time, you're already in another place. It's like you don't have that same initial feeling of excitement about those particular pieces. Another aspect is that most of the time you're living with your work and developing and working on it in your studio, you're seeing it in its natural organic raw state. A lot of times it's not hanging upward, it's laying flat on a table, it's near the books that you have, near the sketches, and its whole environment is just a manifestation of you. But then when it's exhibited, usually it's in some nice clean environment and it looks like it's visiting somewhere.

The thing that is most fascinating to me is when I'm participating in a group thematic show, because then you have different interpretations of a theme. That different artists have developed work based on the same concept, so that in a way shows you a little bit about whom you are in relationship to your colleagues. The other part about exhibiting is that it takes a tremendous amount of energy; people do look at the work and they have something to say about it. I started realizing that in the early 1990s; I was realizing how much energy I would have to reserve to absorb the reactions that people had about my work, and their interest in communicating to me what they thought about it. For many years, I was really concentrating on doing my work and getting it out, and then for many years, for many different reasons, I didn't even go to a lot of the shows that I was in, I just didn't go to the openings. But then I started listening to what people had to say about how they were relating to my work, and I realized that there's a whole other dimension in terms of communicating and creating the work, and that's the dimension of the response. And you really have to adjust your ego for that, I think, and it's not always easy. But it's a great blessing to have that opportunity to listen to what people have to say about your work. And then later it seeps in –what they're saying –and it can really propel you to consider things that you would not have ever considered, had they not shared their impressions with you.

Art and Art Education

DY: The Arts and Education Program at the David C. Driskell Center is supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation and includes lectures and printmaking workshops.23 I spoke about your art to about 350 students, and together we visited the participating schools where you taught students several printmaking techniques.

RH: It was really refreshing, because they are young, curious, energized, and interested. And I enjoy working with them, watching them discover things. Once they understand the techniques and they really grasp the principles, they always come up with something that I would not have thought of myself, an approach that I would not have thought of, so it opens my eyes as well. And there are different populations of students, too, which made it interesting for me.

DY: You had some wonderful, engaged conversations with the students about your art, about identities, and what identities mean for each one of them. We talked about who we are very early in life, yet we change, and our identities are fluid as well. How are specific aspects of your identities expressed in your art?

RH: One thing that I have to remind myself often is that one's identity is organic; it shifts, it morphs, it changes. I think that each person, although might have a basic foundation for her or his identity, also has a gender, an ethnic group, a race, nationality, and language. He or she might have a spiritual understanding, or might be the oldest child in the family which influences how one interacts with others; that basically forms their identity. The other part of your identity is how you interact with others, how you see yourself in the larger society, or community, or the larger world. So whatever you consider your identity to be is like a fundamental core; but the other part of that is the way it is manifesting itself which has to do with temporary or local circumstances, situations, networks, or environments that you interact with. So I think it's very important to move through society, to travel, to interact with different areas, different people of different economic arenas, occupations, races, religions, or political beliefs. I started to realize maybe about twenty years ago that the world that I grew up in was really very close-minded; it considered itself very activist and very progressive, but it was really very inflexible. That was a very hard thing for me to admit.