In Her Own Words:

A Conversation with Artist Robin Holder and Curator Dorit Yaron

DY: You created an autobiographical series or work "What's Black and White and Red All Over? An African American Russian Jewish Red Diaper Baby". In contrast to the movement and energy in the series "Warrior Women Wizards," I think that the works in "What's Black and White and Red All Over?", are much more static. What did your experience of going back to your childhood mean for you spiritually and emotionally and what are some of your artistic choices in this series?

RH: I've thought about why those images in "What's Black and White and Red All Over?" seem static too; maybe it's because there was so much information that the whole process was almost overwhelming. Emotionally, it wasn't difficult; this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to do a series of work that expressed my life almost chronologically from the age of maybe seven to maybe sixteen. I documented and expressed how I became who I am and who I was during those years. So I started to just write down events that happened during my time, and so many actual events happened. One work, The Day Kennedy Was Assassinated, 1996, is about the day President Kennedy was shot. I remember going home from school with my classmate Nina Sklansky. Everybody was devastated, but I kept remembering previous conversations at home about how Joe Kennedy had been a Nazi sympathizer during WWII and a union buster in Massachusetts.2 So I was really conflicted about the legacy of the family of our beloved assassinated president.

The Creative Process

DY: As we mentioned your mother, yourself, and your son, it seems that the issues of generations and continuations of different civilizations are important for you. In the series, "Karnak"3, you are looking at Egypt, Mexico and the Ancient Mayas. You are looking at different cultures and what they have brought to us, what they are going to leave for the next generation.

RH: It's like when you contacted me about my work in the late 1990s. I think that it's this wondrous thing; I did my work in my studio, you got this postcard, and here are two human beings who didn't know each other yesterday and yet you could relate to something in the work, something that was universal enough that it touched you, who come from a different country, circumstance, background.

When you are doing the work, you're in your own world hoping that whatever you're doing is universal enough that it will reflect another person's reality. Truly I must say creating the work is only one part of the work because what I'm doing is just producing artwork. I'm processing a thought, a feeling, a consciousness, or an understanding and I'm creating an image with it; that's just the beginning of a dialogue. And then to have somebody to say: "Well, this is what I see in it; this is what I don't see in it; this is the problem I have about it; this is what I find soothing about it; this is what intrigues me." The fact that it has that life to inspire you to respond in some way is a very powerful thing. That is also part of the creative process. Then I have the responsibility to try to listen to what you have to say about it because now the work is more than just a piece of artwork, it's opening up a dialogue.

DY: Your work seems to be progressive and continuous. You tend to work in series; "Warrior Women Wizards: Mystical Magical Mysteries" for example, started in the 1980s and you are still adding new works to it, such as They Damaged Us More Than Katrina, 2006, which you did twenty years later. I've tracked this series which focuses on women; women's spirituality; women's empowerment; women in agony; and women's identities. Those identities change over time; how do you see the changes in you and in your identities, and how are they expressed in your art over the past twenty years since you started doing this specific body of work?

RH: There are many reasons why I work in series. In the early 1980s I was working at Bob's Printmaking Workshop,4 but I was also working with Betty Blayton-Taylor at the Children's Art Carnival.5 One day Betty and I got into this conversation, and she said something to me that struck me as being very important; she said "I always work in a series because Benny Andrews6 told me to work in a series." And I thought about it; you get to explore an idea through many pieces of artwork, which was very important to me. I remembered that when I was studying at The Art Students League of New York with Vaclav Vytlacil7, he always told me not to have four paintings on one canvas. And I would always tell him, "Well, these are the four realities that I am perceiving right now." He always said that you can't do it, that it's too much on one canvas; and I would always say, "But I should be able to do what I want to do." That was always in the back of my mind: how to show all these different perspectives of one concept or one reality. So when Betty told me that Benny Andrews said to always work in a series, it made sense to me because you could focus on one concept and do a little bit on that piece of paper, and do a little bit on the other piece of paper. Another advantage is that you could focus on one theme, one series of techniques, and one group of materials. And do as much as you could do with it, until you couldn't do any more. I always go back to the "Warrior Women Wizards," and as a matter of fact, this next summer [2009] I plan to go back to it again. Because I believe that life and growth is in a cyclical pattern, it gives me the opportunity to revisit a concept in different stages of my life, and it helps me track my progress in my life—I'm very obsessed with doing that. It's very important for me to see that there's movement; it's frightening too, because I'm reflecting all the time: is there a shift? Are there changes? Is there some development? As I'm becoming older, are some things becoming less important, or more important, to me? So it's a way of understanding myself.