Interview by Clare Gemima
Photos courtesy of Dana Robinson
Dana Robinson is part of a group show titled “Homecoming: Artist Alumni Exhibition” at Kates-Ferri Projects, 561 Grand St. (near Madison Street). I had the chance to talk with Dana about her work on display, “Ebony Reprinted.”
How did your series “Ebony Reprinted” begin, and what inspired your initial intrigue into this particular research area?
It started during the summer when I was between years in grad school at SVA. I was having a very lazy summer but wanted to create some sort of fast work in the studio that contrasted against the incredibly tedious work I was making previously. I wanted to make fun of myself and the process of painting.
I became really interested in Ebony magazine because it was one of the only mass-produced publications I could think of that had a lot of Black women in it. I wanted to reflect back on my work and bring more Black people into art. I also love that Ebony is for everyone — it’s a family magazine that focuses on an ideal version of the Black family.
How many copies of Ebony Magazine do you own, and how did you source the issues that you use in your making?
I have maybe 30 magazines; I don’t really keep track. But I get them off of eBay mostly.
Is there a specific time period that your series focuses on? What is the historical span of your source material?
Yes. The 1950s to 1970s. Any older than that, and the magazines disintegrate. The historical span of my source material shows an interesting transition in print, from including ads for skin lightening cream to making ads about how Black is beautiful and showing women with afros.
Can you explain the process behind each of your paintings, from start to finish?
I put down an image from the magazine and place a piece of flexible clear plastic on it. I then paint the image and place the painted piece of plastic onto the wooden panel, making a monoprint. It’s as though I am inking a stamp.
Does each image you choose to work with hold any personal or sentimental value? What makes you want to interact with specific pages in the magazine?
Each image shows a version of life that I can relate to. They are not images from my life, but they are familiar. And through reproducing them in this way, I feel like I understand them more, and I start to understand life more.
What work has achieved the best effect or finish out of the series? What piece would you mind never selling?
I’m never selling “With a Little Help from Fashion Fair Cosmetics” (2020, below) because it was the first time I figured out that I could scale up, and I was really onto something interesting. It has also been featured in so many articles, and it feels special.
I’m giving myself the ability to reproduce images that I’m reflected in on my own terms. I’m looking in at myself and Black people and recognizing our humanity, dimension, and flaws. I am taking the time to love all of us.
What other painters, writers, performers or entertainers do you feel most aligned with artistically?
I love my friends’ work, especially Joselia Rebekah Hughes, Carlos Rosales-Silva, Alison Kuo, Destiny Belgrave, Stina Puotinen and Jia Sung. I love all of the work for their colors and humor. In the way they put their work together, an intense generosity and care to others carry through. I think this is really special and something I’m always working towards.
Do you explore other mediums besides acrylic paint?
Yes, I’ve been working with fabric a lot. Most recently, I have been using found-fabrics to make quilt-like works that I plan to stretch. I also make silk paintings, some of which were recently on display at the Wassaic Project, and I will soon have a different series at Fuller Rosen Gallery in Portland in a few weeks. I also make watercolor/ gouache paintings, collages, and do some leatherworking.
How did you get involved with Kates-Ferri Projects, and do you feel as though your practice has expanded or become different in any way since this relationship began?
Haha. I met Natalie Kates at the Untitled art fair in 2019. I had recently graduated, and I had worked in the SVA booth. Natalie loved my work, bought a piece and the rest was history. It truly spoke volumes that she was willing to invest in me that way. She asked me to be the first artist in residence and, of course, I said yes. My practice has grown, yes. I feel more confident about doing what feels right and making mistakes.
What’s in store for your studio practice in the future? Any shows in the pipeline?
So many shows! BAITBALL — a group show at Palazzo San Giuseppe in Italy. One at 92nd Street YMCA in New York — a two-person show with Maya Varadaraj through the gallery, Medium Tings. There are three solo shows: one at A.I.R Gallery, one at Haul Gallery, both in Brooklyn, and then one at Fuller Rosen Gallery in Portland, Ore.
What co-exhibitors from “Homecoming: Artist Alumni Exhibition” excite you the most, either with their work or overall studio approach?
I love Eric Manuel Santoscoy Mckillip’s work, especially the way it references architecture and its colors and stucco textures. It feels like you’re getting these special memories — maybe they are daydreams.
I also grew up in Florida, so that texture is so special to me because most houses had stucco. For me, it’s literally the texture of home. I also love Ryan Brown’s sand-filled dogs, and those are works that I’d want to pick up and hug forever.
Clare Gemima is a visual artist and arts writer from New Zealand, now based in the East Village of New York. You can find her work here: claregemima.com