by Ben Shine
An Indiana girl, born and raised, Leslie Dolin recently took up artistic residence in the middle of the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s current exhibition, Gustave Baumann, German Craftsman-American Artist.
As the museum’s first-ever woodblock printmaking artist in residence, Dolin spends her days making prints, interacting with gallery visitors and leading workshops that show patrons the intricate process involved in printmaking. It’s an experience that offers her a unique view into both the museum’s inner workings and the visitors’ curiosity about printmaking.
A 1998 Herron School of Art graduate, Dolin’s work, both as an individual and in collaborative creations, has ranged from painting to printmaking. It has celebrated cultural icons, including Nina Simone, Chaka Khan and Dizzy Gillespie, as well as adorable woodland creatures.
But the Baumann exhibit and his printed takes on natural settings bridge two phases of her artistic life – her early years with landscape paintings and the graphic printmaking that she has more recently explored.
I’ve known Leslie for decades, and I was so excited to see her get this opportunity. She took a break from her IMA cubby (really, a large, windowed room in the middle of the Baumann exhibit) to chat a bit about her residency.
SBW: How did you become the first woodblock printmaking artist in residence at the IMA?
LD: I found a listing for the residency through the Indiana Arts Council classifieds. I read through it a few times and thought it would be a perfect fit for me, so I applied. I went through an interview process and was surprisingly offered the residency.
SBW: What do you do as the woodblock printmaking artist in residence at the IMA?
LD: My residency is part of a larger exhibition featuring the work of Gustave Baumann. My workspace is in the Process Gallery, and it’s open to the public. I get to use this space to make woodblock prints inspired by Baumann, while guests of the museum observe the process. I also lead workshops within the space that help facilitate a better understanding of the color-printing process, which can be quite complex. Another bonus of the residency is my exhibition, which is currently on display in the Bret Waller Gallery.
SBW: From collaborations with other artists to depictions of cultural icons, your work incorporates diverse inspirations. How does the Baumann show inspire you?
LD: My work has been diverse in subject matters. I started my career as a landscape painter and worked within that genre for years. The Baumann exhibit brings me back home, where I am making art from a place that is peaceful and familiar. Trying to capture the majesty of the natural world on a two dimensional plain has always been an intriguing challenge for me. I feel a kinship with Baumann in the sense that no matter where he was in the world, his surroundings seemed to be his biggest inspiration.
SBW: What’s exciting about being around the Gustave Baumann exhibition as a printmaker?
LD: Baumann has a very unique approach to woodblock printing. His prints read almost like paintings, in the sense that there is a depth and richness that one doesn’t often find in woodcut prints. He really had the ability to capture light and the texture of the landscape. Sometimes I walk around the exhibit and study his prints so I can better understand how to approach certain aspects of my own work. He was a true master of his craft.
SBW: How do IMA visitors tend to react to the exhibition and Baumann’s work?
LD: People that are unfamiliar with printmaking are fascinated by the process. To see this beautiful work first on the wall and then see it dissected into all of its parts blows people’s minds. People will walk through exhibit and come over to me and ask all sorts of questions. The visitors are really delighted by the craftsmanship and the time put into the creation of the woodblock prints.
SBW: As someone who’s come to the museum as a visitor for most of your life, what’s it like to be behind the scenes and actually on the inside?LD: I love being inside the museum. It’s amazing. I came on when the Gustave Baumann exhibit was being installed, so I got a behind-the-scenes peek at how it all comes together. I have a new appreciation for how the museum functions. It takes a lot of hardworking people to create an environment that is engaging and entertaining, as well as respectful to the conservation of the art.
SBW: You’ve taught people about the printmaking process, but what have they taught you in the process?
LD: Interacting with the visitors has been a very educational experience for me. I’m learning a lot about what people know or want to know about my chosen field. I particularly like engaging with people through the printing workshops. The participants are generally very enthusiastic and excited to participate in the exhibit in a hands-on way.
SBW: What about the printmaking process draws the most interest or confusion?
LD: The general public is completely baffled by the “registration process,” . . . the way of aligning block and paper to yield a consistent print. It’s a complicated thing to explain. Also, most people seem to think that woodblock printing is a lost art that nobody does anymore. While I like the romance of that notion, I try to assure everyone that there are plenty of us out there.
SBW: There are all kinds of ways to do and create art, what are the most special parts of printmaking for you?
LD: I have an emotional connection with printmaking. I find great solace in the process, from the carving to the printing. It’s a tactile art form that requires a lot of experience to fully comprehend. I love the idea of a multiple, that one image can be made many times, therefore making it more accessible to a wider audience. Also having many copies gives me more opportunity to experiment.
SBW: What’s next for you?
LD: Unemployment and prayers (she laughs). I recently secured a studio space at the Circle City Industrial Complex, so I will be participating in IDADA First Fridays there starting in March. My short-term goal is to secure enough supplies to lead workshops independently, and my long-term goal is to open up a print studio where I can teach. I will also be furthering my studies in Moku Hanga, traditional Japanese printmaking.
Leslie Dolin can be found at the IMA Wednesday through Sunday until Feb. 14. You can sign up for one of her workshops or learn more about the exhibit here.