Q + A
the voice of Dolan Geiman
With a portfolio that spans from paper collages and mixed media to metal wall sculptures and faux taxidermy, the unique and signature style of Dolan Geiman’s artwork is the necessary thread that holds the artist’s many mediums together. As a child, Geiman spent summers within Shenandoah Valley’s abundance of nature, where he honed both a re-purposeful eye and his entrepreneurial spirit. Now, Geiman celebrates the essence of his childhood by honoring nature through his work as a Denver-based artist. We sat down with Geiman to discuss his roots, his inspiration and his athletic approach to artwork.
How did you find your calling? What drew you to your work as an artist?
To answer this question, I’m going to drop you in the middle of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia some decades ago. To the left, you will see the foundation of an old wooden barn now a skeleton of what it used to be. Beside that, there is a corncrib full of old corncobs, wooden chairs, piles of broken whisky bottles, and metal advertising signs. To your right, you will see a large, brick colonial farmhouse built in 1796. Hand-hewn chunks of limestone resting below red clay bricks make up the foundation. If you look closely at the bricks, as I often did when I was a child, you would notice that they contain small bits of quartz, gravel, rock and little shells. I pulled and scraped at the bricks until a small piece of shell came loose in my hand and then ran with it to my mother. My mind was struggling to figure out how the shell got into the brick — I just couldn’t comprehend this. My mother shared a story with me about the women and men 200 years before me who dug deep into the banks of the creek which ran through the meadow near the house, and they pulled up large chunks of thick, muddy clay. They packed and molded the clay into rectangular forms and put these into a large oven to bake them for days until they were eventually cool and dry and could be taken out as handmade bricks. I couldn’t comprehend this type of creating entirely, but something had been ignited inside me and I became intensely interested in making, creating and connecting with the earth in this way, using my creativity as the vehicle.
That summer and many summers after that, my siblings and I smashed poke berries in big horse troughs and dipped our clothes in the purple brine to create our own dyed fabrics. We constructed wooden mouse-trap-style games out of old wood scraps we found on the farm. We boiled old marbles on the woodstove until they cracked and made sun-catching prisms. Everything I did involved altering found materials or raw organic materials — constantly creating. When I was a little older, my mother started her own art career as a watercolor artist. I went with her to help her set up her booth at various art fairs around the state. Along the way, I gained an affinity for the process of creating and crafting and then taking those wares out to be sold, and I started to understand that this was my calling. Through her artwork sales, she was able to put me through college and suggested that I study art. During school, when I needed money, my entrepreneurial spirit started to kick in and I was always revisiting the question of “What can I create that I can then sell?” I relied on my creativity because it was the one thing I possessed that set me apart from others. I had no second thoughts about selling my art or where I was headed, I knew this was my path. After college, I bounced around to a handful of creative ventures while always finding avenues to sell artwork, whether on the street or in a gallery or at a friend’s office over a lunch break. I learned that if I treated my artwork as a business, I could figure out formulas for selling and creating that would last longer than a few months.
Your medium of found objects inspires a sense of environmentalism — of using what is available rather than what’s new. Do you consider yourself an environmentalist?
I would! I try to maintain a consciousness of the natural world and how my actions impact it every day. Nature, this beautiful planet, our environment: they inform so much of what I make and do, and really form the lens through which I experience life. It is a gift to be able to give new life to old things, rather than constantly consuming. I love being able to repurpose materials for use as art that celebrates the natural space in which many of these things were found. And it’s part of my upbringing as well. I was surrounded by discarded materials and unique organic materials daily, and it was a wonderful creative challenge to use those items rather than drive hours to an art store to purchase a plastic tube of paint, to which I had no connection.
What inspires you to keep on creating on days where your energy is low?
I believe all art is labor-intensive, regardless of medium. There are so many hours of mental creativity that go into many of the pieces we see around us, whether sculpture or illustration or performance art. As viewers of art, we get to witness the final product, but don’t often get to see those steps leading up to the grand unveiling. My process just happens to involve a mix of materials and papers and a lot of tedious elements, but I’m able to maneuver in this realm because it’s like exercising — I have done it every day for dozens of years, so I am very much in tune with the process.
I am also strange among my other creative peers in that I work every day, no matter what my creative energy is telling me. If I feel my energy is low, I switch tasks. For example, if I am about to start a new collage or sculpture and I just can’t get my head in the right place, I will put it aside and go work on a sketch for a client or draft a proposal for a project. Then I can come back to the artwork creation when I feel more motivated. I keep sketchbooks with notes to remind myself of previous ideas, I create small tasks that don’t require as much energy to complete, I surround myself with the tools that I need to get to work quickly and to stay focused and I plan my schedule to make sure I can work uninterrupted when I need to. If I have all of these elements dialed in, and I set myself up to get the work done, I don’t have to rely on that fleeting and capricious thing known as inspiration.
“Nature, this beautiful planet, our environment: they inform so much of what I make and do, and really form the lens through which I experience life.”
When you are creating a piece, do you often think of its final destination (for example, someone’s home or exhibition), or do you create solely on what feels right in the moment?
You know, it really depends — and I love both versions. For a custom client, I often know the space in which the piece will hang before I even start making it. Being able to envision something living in its environs before it comes together helps inform some choices and brings the piece to life in my mind earlier. I also love to start from a tiny grain of an idea, building and building on each subsequent idea until the piece really takes shape. It can be like watching a flower bloom: at first, you weren’t even sure which species it was, and as it flowers, unfurling row after row of tiny petals, you begin to see that it was not at all what you expected it might be — and somehow, even more exciting than you could have hoped.
“Art is an intensely personal appreciation. It can often reflect back what we value and love, and being surrounded by these in your space can really make a house your unique haven.”
A huge part of being an artist is operating a business. How do you maintain a work/life balance as a business owner?
Luckily, I have a wonderful business partner: my wife Ali Marie, without whom I would be adrift! We love to work hard and we love to see the fruits of that labor in the form of happy clients and beautiful work. It really is so important to find that balance, though; for me, it is escaping into nature and filling up my energetic tank with inspiration, fresh air and new adventures.
To what or to whom do you attribute your success?
I owe my success to a deeply engrained sense of hard work that came from both my mother and father, the partnership and love of wonderful family and friends and a desire to never stop evolving as an artist and as a human. Working hard every day is great but combining hard work with creativity has been an even better recipe for success.
Describe the importance of art in the home.
What a question! Art is an intensely personal appreciation. It can often reflect back what we value and love, and being surrounded by these in your space can really make a house your unique haven.
Where do you find inspiration in your daily life? Do you have any recommended books, podcasts or publications?
I often tell people that I can be inspired by a dead thistle — it doesn’t take much to get me very excited! It was also Thoreau who said that we need not travel to distant countries seeking inspiration, but to spend more time looking in our own backyard, at the microcosm of life therein. That sentiment is one that I live by, as I am always looking to nature to fill up my head with new ideas and inspiration.
I also recommend reading poetry at least once a week. I prefer the heavy hitters: Richard Brautigan, Baudelaire, Wallace Stevens, Jean Arp, Robert Frost and Sylvia Plath to name a few.
For music, I usually have a constant rotation of the following artists:
For wild creative raw tunes: Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits, Tim Buckley, Getatchew Mekurya, Kate Bush, Aesop Rock, Solex
For homespun nostalgia/chill beats: Tony Rice, Seldom Scene, John Prine, Horace Andy, Pantha du Prince
For melodrama and moodiness: The Smiths/Morrissey, Jeff Buckley,Tori Amos, Rufus Wainwright, Emmylou Harris, Ryan Adams, Don Williams, Gillian Welch, Stephen Stills
For pure inspiration: Dylan, Bach, Neil Young’s soundtrack for Dead Man, The Byrds, T-Rex
For pure motivation/raw rock: Bad Brains, Soundgarden (early years), Metallica (anything before Load), Tool (Opiate), The Slits
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