In Her Own Words:

A Conversation with Artist Robin Holder and Curator Dorit Yaron

DY: We talked about variety in your art. For example, the images in the series "Warrior Women Wizards" are very dynamic, versus the works in the series "What's Black and White and Red All Over?" which are more static; or your narrative, figurative art versus works with abstract imagery, or the use of organic shapes versus sharp/geometric shapes. You describe it as having those conflicts and wondered how successful those approaches are.

RH: I've been very aware that in the past twenty years, I have distinct venues of expressing certain types of work. The "Karnak" series has those floating figures which are depending on overlays of color, transparent layers of shapes. The same approach is used in "Warrior Women Wizards"; those works are very much like a dance–I think that in most of those works you're very aware of shapes that are moving in space. Then I have these series of works that are social commentaries, that is the "Behind Each Window, A Voice", the work that I did in Philadelphia in the Church of the Advocate;24 "What's Black and White and Red All Over?"; the "Shock and Awe" pieces; and then "My Beautiful Red Dress". Those are not done with the same approach to the stencils; those are incorporating text, and they are very specific in the sense that the people in the images are specific, actual human beings. They're not representing a concept, a principle, an idea, or reality; they're actual people telling a story. Those are the works that are incorporating photo-lithographic elements, Xerox transfer, photo silkscreen. I don't know if it's my inability to explore those concepts in a way that shows movement that comes natural to me, or if it's the fact that the storytelling of it is taking over the imagery, or that I'm illustrating something that is surrounding a particular event, or a particular person. Ultimately, I think that my responsibility is to try to do the work; I can't assess the work at the same time, it's too much for me.

DY: You often combine social and political messages in your art, whether it's narrative, representational, or abstract. That's what first attracted me to your art.

RH: I think that one way to see it is that art serves many purposes. It has many functions; one of its purposes is for the person who is making the work to experiment and explore with specific materials and to develop certain techniques with specific materials. Another function of art is for the person who is making the art to express or define themselves, or reflect on the things that they are concerned about. Another function of art is to symbolize or express the community, or the culture, or the world, in the terms that the artist understands the world, or questions the world or is affected by the world. Another function of art can be to motivate or calm people. Imagery is very powerful, the colors have energy, the shapes have energy, the forms have energy, and they impact the well-being and the status of the experience of whoever is looking at it. Art is very powerful, or has the potential to be very powerful. The art that I am responding to the most or that inspires me the most is art made by people who are incorporating as many of those functions as possible. For example, if you take Romie's25 work, the exploration of the materials is so brilliant and so innovative and so labor-intensive. He is doing things that are truly unique, and he has developed a visual language that is his vocabulary. In his work, he's often concerned with telling a story about the human condition, which interests me because I love stories. At the same time, there's sort of an overlap between figurative and abstract elements in the imagery, because if you take any of that work and turn it sideways or upside-down it's very pleasing aesthetically, if you just forget that there's an eye, or a leg, or a hand. There is a balance of shapes and forms, positive and negative spaces, the tonal relationships; it's all very exciting. So to me, it's multidimensional. So that's what I'm hoping my work is, something that takes many of those functions that I was talking about, and incorporates them. Many different people can relate or respond to it on different levels.

There was a period when I must have been twenty-two or twenty-three years old, when I was trying to find a way to express certain social conditions that I was aware of, but the imagery that I was creating was so horrifically painful to look at, that I started to understand that the only way I'm going to be able to do anything that people are in any way going to look at, is to also to try to find the way to show the beauty in human life and also the beauty in people surviving challenges, and the beauty in people. The heroic effort of people just to endure fascinates me. I was just really trying to find a way to put the beauty and the pain together but in a way that you can look at some of the images and get first a positive impression or a welcoming impression, and then as you go closer to it, it would become disconcerting or just challenging, but not so frightening that it would just push you away.