Interview with “I’m Fine” Artist Dana Hollister

This is the first installment of the I’m Fine artist interview series.  

Dana Hollister || UMCP ’17 || Exhibiting in I’m Fine from June 5th through July 28th, 2017 at The Stamp Gallery || University of Maryland, College Park || Interview by Kat Mullineaux

Before we discuss your contributions to I’M FINE specifically, let’s get some background information about you. Where are you from, what did you study as an undergrad at UMCP, and how long have you been making art?

I’m originally from Silver Spring Maryland, so not too far from College Park. I was a studio art major with a concentration in wood sculpting as well as an honors student for the last year of my bachelors and I have been making art since I was in 8th grade. I was in an intensive art program throughout high school and continued on when I got to college.

When looking at your artwork in this show, I can’t help but notice your dynamic choice of materials throughout your pieces. Personally,  the use of re-purposed wood in combination with light, in your piece ‘I’m Fine’ struck me. The sculpture seems to be an interesting combination of welcoming and aggressive, like saying “I’m Fine”, both making me want to get closer and warning me to stay away. Was that intentional?

Yes, it was definitely intentional. When I was creating the work I was thinking about how people with PTSD and cognitive difficulties interact with others. From personal experience when someone asked me if I was okay, my heart wanted a hug and my brain  wanted to shove them away as fast as I could. I tried to embody that as much a possible in this piece.

The prints in ‘Living with ADHD’ play with a dynamic kind of controlled chaos, combining words, images and moments of blue among black and white. How does living with ADHD affect or influence your artistic process?

To be honest ADHD is probably the reason I am an artist. Most of the work I do comes from random thoughts that I have during conversations, or readings that I have to finish. ADHD is quite frustrating, don’t get me wrong, but I have found a way to channel it into my art that helps me cope with how intense it can be.

How does your piece ‘Resilience’ comment on the road to acceptance for those who face stigmatization and struggles with mental illness/disorder?  In your opinion, how important is art in the battle against stigmatization?

Well the piece itself shows the uphill struggle that everyone with a mental disorder or illness deals with. The road to acceptance is the most challenging part because there is this thought that we must be “normal”. And “normal” people are never depressed or bipolar or have any issues that may cause relapses. No matter how untrue this is, humans will always perceive their issues in a negative light. “Resilience” represents the shaky and difficult road to acceptance but the smooth and easier  slide down to accepting yourself for who you are, rather than fighting it.

I’m my mind art is super important for fighting stigmatization because when someone looks at your art they don’t think or know that the artist is going through difficult times. The artist is just another person walking on the earth as they are. Art allows those with cognitive differences to express themselves and show their talent without being out into a category.

In ‘Living with ADHD’, ‘Resilience’, and ‘I’m Fine’ you play with unique materials including re-purposed wood, screen printing, plywood, and metal. What is your favorite medium to explore in your art? Do you find yourself drawn to unconventional materials?

My favorite material to use would have to be wood. The smell of the wood is just so natural and intoxicating that any other material just seems wrong in my hands. I grew up in a nature loving family so I try to be as environmentally conscious as possible. That means that I am drawn to unconventional materials. Being able to use throw away or discard material makes me feel like I am doing my part to re-purpose materials so they don’t find their ways into our environment.

Does your art tend to focus on your personal and internal life or do you look at the world around you and the experiences of others when creating it? Is it a combination of the two?

My art is definitely a reflection of my personal life. Most of my work revolves around how I deal with my out mental illnesses and how I cope with them in hopes that it may shed light on what people with my issues go through or help other seeking for coping mechanisms.

Is there anything or anyone that you feel particularly inspired by or influenced by? Are there any movements politically or in art history that you feel drawn towards?

The sculptors Foon Sham and Debra Butterfield are probably two of the artists that influences my current body of work the most. They taught me that I can make art about what I love and feel rather than making it just for the sake of make it.

Can you tell me something about what you are currently working on?

Currently my work revolves around my particular coping mechanism for my depression, ADHD, and whatever else I may have and not know about. My material consist of found objects from the horse farms I work for, for example horse hair that the horses  rip out themselves on the walls or water buckets.

Now that you have graduated from UMCP do you think that you will pursue any further education? In art perhaps?

I am considering getting a masters in sculpting.

Before we go, is there anything you would like to highlight about your work or the show as a whole?

Just that the show turned out really well and all the artists work were as amazing as I expected them to be!

For more information on I’M FINE and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery.

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