I visited the studio of multidisciplinary artist Dana Robinson in Brooklyn, who was commissioned by Acrylicize to create a mural for our client LinkedIn in the Empire State Building, New York. During our conversation, we discussed how she works with imagery from Black vintage media and Fashion Fairs ads from the 1970s to create her compositions.
On the 15th floor elevator bank, the artist conceptualised Stand-Up Comedy (2022), a collage of vinyl cut-outs, which are all loosely linked by swirling string on the backdrop of a bright white wall. Moving through the space, these chosen and celebrated objects — shoes, textiles, fruit, taxi cabs — placed on the wall appear playfully related
Martin Mayorga (MM): In 2012, you graduated with a BFA in Design from Florida State University, and in 2019, you completed your MFA at the School of Visual Arts. Can you describe your work in these two fields?
Dana Robinson (DR): Design is something I create to communicate with the rest of the world as clearly as possible and art is something I do to try to communicate with myself. Other people's input is important in my design work and with my art, it is really important for me to try to be as honest with myself as possible.
Mass media is so interesting, the way that it needs to talk to a broad audience. I love taking that idea and making it into something personal.
MM: Has your design work influenced your artistic practice? And vice versa?
DR: Yes, I am really interested in different ways of reproducing images. With the design, I have an understanding of symbols and what they signal and that is something that comes out in my artistic practice since I work with a lot of printed media. Mass media is so interesting, the way that it needs to talk to a broad audience. I love taking that idea and making it into something personal.
MM: In works like You're Never Too Old for Kool-Aid (2020), and The Liquid Jewel (2020) you add acrylic paint to surfaces like canvas, fabric and wood using clear plastic sheets. What appeals to you about the repetitive nature of this process?
DR: It’s a simple and rudimentary process. It’s a way of printing that’s also painting. There’s a quickness to it that holds a lot of chances as far as the outcome goes. I like the need on my part to accept whatever comes out once I pull the plastic away.
MM: When applying paint to silk or chiffon fabric, how does it compare to working with more conventional material, like canvas?
DR: The ink becomes a part of the silk in a way that is not possible with the canvas or panels. It’s in the material and not possible to peel it off or remove it. It’s delicate but also a bit more sinister. The works on the panel have a bit more humor to them. Even though the works on silk are significantly more delicate, they are larger and have a bigger presence. I often display them in a way where they are in the middle of spaces and viewers have to navigate around them. That definitely adds to them being more assertive workers, they are usually not wallflowers.
MM: In your practice, transparency seems to be not just a functional and formal consideration, but also a metaphor for what it might represent and signify. Would you agree?
DR: Yes, being present while being partially invisible is something that I personally relate to. I also think it's somewhat of a universal feeling, the feeling of not being completely seen. On another level, it plays with the viewer's desire to see the full image. The image changes depending on the background and the environment is a part of the work, and the viewer is also a part of the environment. The transparency creates tension and a symbiotic and physical relationship with a space and the people in it.
MM: For LinkedIn’s flagship New York office space, you were selected from a pool of recent and current graduates of the School of Visual Arts to create a wall vinyl located on the 14th Floor of the Empire State Building. Can you describe the motivation behind your initial proposal?
DR: With a background in graphic design and a love of Black vintage media, I have found ways of bringing the past into the present in innovative ways that help play with reality through combinations of colors, textures and flowing gestures. The murals I have made are a medley of vector illustrations and scanned images from magazines that create a space of energy and movement. Hopefully, these compositions will spark a playful sense of imagination and guide people toward success.
MM: What are the significance of these cut-outs, which effortlessly weave in images of clothing, shoes, cars, flowers, and people?
DR: These images represent the flow of life and all the things we have to do. These images represent the things we pass that create moments leading up to our arrival destination.
MM: Where did the title Stand-Up Comedy come from?
DR: There are so many possibilities for humor in the process of arriving, wherever that destination is; like the funny moments that happen when we are trying to get out of the house and start the day, the last-minute outfit change, or running around looking for a missing sock.
MM: Founded in 1958, the Ebony Fashion Fair was a fashion show and makeup line for people of colour. Having included a selection of these advertisements in your mural, how would you describe your engagement with nostalgia, especially in the Black publishing and fashion industries of the 1970s?
DR: Fashion Fair was the first makeup line marketed towards Black women. It was important. It was the makeup that my Mom wore and the makeup I played with as a kid. There is an intense comfort in working with these advertisements. They are the images that I learned to emulate when I was growing up. This definition of the feminine can be narrow and through my work, I try to play with and expand the definition of life outlined in Ebony and Fashion Fair. By taking them out of context and bringing them into a new reality, I try to honor the past while creating a new future.
MM: You are currently working with Small Editions, an independent Brooklyn-based publisher, on an upcoming book. What is the book about and how will you bring cutouts, prints, and vinyl together to inform the book’s visual identity?
DR: I am going to work with personal photos. I’m taking a trip to my Mom’s house in Minnesota to riffle around in my old things and see what I can find. I don’t know what will be in the book but when I do make books they tend to be deeply personal. We’ll see how this one goes!