In Her Own Words:

A Conversation with Artist Robin Holder and Curator Dorit Yaron

DY: At one point you were doing a print at the Workshop and had an interesting conversation with Elizabeth Catlett. Do you remember which work you were printing? And what was so different about it?

RH: I think it was one of the works from the "Karnak" series, but I don't remember which piece.

I had these acetate stencils that I was inking. I had a piece of Plexiglass that I was inking, and I was putting the stencils on top of other inked stencils, and then running them through the press, and re-inking them and then putting them on the inked Plexiglass to create a composition. I had just pulled a print, and I heard Bob [Blackburn] coming. Bob wore slippers and had this way of shuffling around and it would just drive you crazy! And I thought, "Oh no, here he comes." But I heard other footsteps with him. I think I had the door open, and I had just pulled a print, had just taken it off the page and set it down on the table. And that was just when Elizabeth Catlett and Bob came in. They both had thick glasses—they were both nearsighted—and they came over and each one of them put their glasses on as they bent over to look, and they did this a couple times. It was almost like a choreographed dance; and they both went back and forth a couple of times, holding their glasses and looking at the print, and then leaning back and taking the glasses off, and then leaning in and putting them on. And they each did this like two times, and I was just standing there, and I was sweating. And they didn't say anything. Then they both turned to me at the same time and they said, "How did you get that effect?" I explained to them what I was doing; I was trembling, but I felt like, "God, if they don't figure out how I'm doing this, then this is really exciting!" because they know so much about printmaking, the two of them together, and they were interested in what I was doing. They just kept looking at it, and it was one of those prints that almost looked like pointillist layers of colors. If you look at the works from the "Karnak" series, the way that the inks lie on top of each other, you can have a shape in which you can see yellows, reds, opals, and pinks all together. It's just the way that the stencils were inked and the way that it was printed.

Figure 9
Fig. 9 Camino de Animales, 1992, 6,500 square foot plaza, NYC. Photographic documentation: Tim Lee
Public Art and Group Exhibitions

DY: Robin, you've been involved in some public art projects, such as Camino de Animales, 1992 (Fig. 9), a 6,500 square feet plaza in Public School 5 in Manhattan. What does it mean for you to be involved in a public art project?20

RH: Well, I think it's a very rare opportunity to be involved in public art, because historically, in this country, public art has really been something that sculptors do, or people who work in monumental size work do. It's something that lives as a permanent installation in a particular situation, in a particular environment, and people interact with it every day. In my case, since I'm not working with iron, mosaic, or some kind of industrial material, most of my public art projects have been situations where I really function as the designer, the producer. In order to design a project, I have to get into a lot of research to find out the chemistry or the physical parameters of the material, and then I have to sub-contract the fabrication of some of the elements. So it's a lot of production, administration and collaboration which is not something that I'm used to doing. When I'm doing my work on paper it's just me in the studio, by myself. When you're doing public art you have to work with architects, sometimes you have to work with the contractor and the managers on the site, among many others.