Tuesday, February 12, 2008
artist Bess Dolin
from Avenue Magazine July 2006
Bess Dolin is leaving Wilmington for the windy city. There’ll be no more bike rides along Front Street, running into friends sporadically. She’ll continue to do art from her new home in Chicago, creating fine art and producing flyers for bands via her computer and the internet. But one must consider what the new locale will add to her growing artistic palette.
Dolin arrived at the Blue Post via her bike in a long dress and partially curled hair. She’s tall and gracious, brown eyes large and wide. Dolin doesn’t own a cell phone, has an old Wilmington prefix for her home phone. She creates web pages but isn’t a MySpace junkie. (“it’s like advertising for yourself”) There’s an informed innocence about her, you couldn’t push her around but she’d quickly find something to appreciate about you.
She has lived in Wilmington for five or six years. Wilmingtonians may be familiar with her work in a variety of ways. A few years ago she was getting noticed for her colorful and somewhat mad artwork that accompanied band flyers. It was the wonderfully crazed combination of animals interacting as though they were humans that brought attention to such unique work. Though perhaps not for everyone, its originality cannot be denied.
As an artist she has a plus, that her tastes change frequently, a stated concern about becoming stagnant. Dolin has an avid interest in everything, certainly animals. Currently she is fond of foxes and has a tattoo of one on her arm. But everything can be utilized for artistic purposes. While looking on eBay she found some old micro cassettes. She thought about making pins out of them but her boyfriend, photographer Donald Scott, suggested something different.
“He said maybe I could do a diary, suggesting them because they record,” she says. “I thought, that’s a great idea.” The subsequent creations, vastly different from previous work, were micro cassettes mounted on wood at Art Fuel Inc, each suggesting a specific point in Dolin’s life. The series, Timecapsule, was a first, having never done a series of art pieces before. The micro cassettes were decorated one by one and mounted on a stained block of wood with felt and an ornate ribbon ensconced with different dates.
“Each micro cassette suggests a specific point in my life,” Dolin says. Looking over her work there is an apparent evolution, the interests never waning, constantly moving.
Most notable are the bicycles.
Dolin can’t exactly put her finger on it. Not really a love of Americana or nostalgia, although she likes older bikes better, those with more personality, merely something that brings happiness. Recently, a friend went to Amsterdam and brought back scores of pictures of bicycles that she enjoyed.
“I don’t know what it is,” she says. “Some people like cars, furniture. Bicycles, it’s just one of those things.”
Her indecisiveness, and the tendency to go off on tangents, is part of what makes Dolin interesting. Her mind wanders from thought to thought telling engrossing stories and she adds extra words in her sentences, such as really and a lot to reinforce meaning. She’s very enthusiastic about what she means, like an energetic child and in a playful way. Dolin twists words around making them her own. It works in conjunction because there is a playful ferocity to her work, to her very nature.
Talking about the past there’s the evidence of constant change, from moving downtown and eventually giving up reclusiveness to exploring the bar scene only to grow tired of it within a year.
“I moved downtown and came out of my shell,” she explains. “But it’s important that people have time alone, to get comfortable with yourself. If you’re alone with yourself for a long period of time you learn to handle anything.”
But turning twenty-one and living downtown was more than a social situation. After that part of her life calmed down Dolin had a boyfriend who played in a band. It was in high school she made flyers for bands, just to “mess around.”
She started doing flyers for Thunderlip and gained more work from that. People starting knowing who she was and it became a series of six degrees, someone knew someone who knew Dolin and the work grew, sometimes too much work.
“That’s how I started doing that around here,” she says. Currently she is completing the cd cover art and logos for local band Glow in the Dark Scars. The cover has a bear theme going on, continuing the interest in animals.
She considers commission work somewhat frustrating because not everyone knows what they want, or if someone doesn’t have an idea in mind or isn’t about honest about what they want.
The inspiration for the band fliers, she’s not really sure. Dolin is inspired by anything, nothing in particular.
“I like certain animals, right now I’m into foxes, into bears,” she says. Along with the fox tattoo on her arm is a canary she says, pointing and telling of its placement a year ago. There are six total. She points to another saying she got it a few months ago.
“It used to be years between them. I like tattoos a lot, I like tattoo art,” she says.
Her boyfriend Donald Scott has been an inspiration. She’ll look at a picture he has and think I can do something with this. Their meeting was more random than serendipitous. But the burgeoning relationship has seemingly been a welcome addition to her life.
“I was coming out of Blue Post and he was coming in,” she says. Scott appeared during a tumultuous part of Dolin’s life and the two started seeing each other, the relationship moving fast.
Neither Dolin or Scott smoke and citing that the bars can be loud and smoky, she says that they’ll come to a place like the Blue Post and play pool.
“We’re both like old people,” she says. “I like hanging out with people a lot. I did the drinking thing for a year but it gets expensive.”
Dolin enjoys riding bikes around downtown a lot, cruising the strip on Front Street she’ll say with a diminutive laugh.
“We run into people. We ride at night, come down to Water Street or go around Greenfield Lake. If we don’t see anybody we’ll go home,” she says and then pauses for a moment. “I have a job in the morning.”
After high school everyone told Dolin to go to college and she halfheartedly applied to few. At first Dolin was excited about the beach after moving to Wilmington from Chapel Hill but became more of a downtown person gradually, citing that you don’t have to drive. However, on the beach, “it would be nice if you didn’t have all the tourists and parking is a pain, it keeps going up. They need transportation that goes to and from for people.”
A few trips to Myrtle Beach led to an unfavorable opinion about over-commercialism. She’s not about to be down on someone for what they like but places such as Myrtle Beach are not high on a list of places to visit. The busy lanes of traffic, the mall-like atmosphere and the neon nightmare that blares from both sides of the street are enough to make wearing sunglasses at night a must.
“I don’t know what it is about Myrtle Beach but I just don’t like it,” she says. “Guys yelling at you when you walk down the street, following you around.”
Moving downtown provided an advantage such as making a car unnecessary save for going to work. Dolin enjoyed growing up in the country, Chapel Hill, but there’s not as much to do. Upon first moving to Wilmington it was hard to find a job.
“I didn’t have much experience in retail or waitressing.” She’d go to apply and never had enough experience. “How will I get experience if no one hires me,” she says with some frustration. Dolin clenches her fists and shakes her arms slightly, not angrily, but sort of like a child trying to repress anger.
Wilmington is the biggest city Dolin’s ever lived in. She appreciates that it’s a small town, that you can run into people, whether working for or against you.
“I’m not really a phone person, I like running into people I want to run into,” she says. “I don’t really have anyone’s phone numbers.”
Originally from West Virginia, Dolin and her mother moved to Raleigh as a child, which she remembers little of, and then to Chapel Hill.
She doesn’t know much about her father, her parents having been divorced early on. She does know that her father played music and her mother was a writer.
“I have no musical talent at all. I’m too crazy about punctuation and grammar,” she says. “My mother does draw some but isn’t into the visual art aspect. My mom does web page design. I do web page design. I grew up with it. We always had a computer in the house.”
Dolin used to only like drawing, never getting into sculpture or painting. The only schooling she has is at Cape Fear where one teacher would pass judgment on her work.
“When I paint I like to do smooth detail oriented painting. She’d always get on me because it wasn’t painterly looking,” Dolin says.
Dolin explains that she can see how it helps some people, but art is something she doesn’t believe can be taught.
“You have a natural knack for it. I’m not a big fan of abstract or anime, not a huge fan. If I were to be an art teacher I’d tend to lean to or be favorable of fine art instead of cartoons. But I don’t want a teacher forcing their sensibilities on me. I’d rather not have my stuff graded. One teacher was accepting of everyone’s art, didn’t judge on what he liked, accepted everyone’s interpretation. Plus school’s really expensive.”
Hanging out with artists and picking up on their techniques is a way to gain knowledge about art. Dolin tends to like details, and really simple stuff as well. She points to the wall in front of us, a brick wall partially covered in concrete to cover holes, possibly. On a large pipe to the right high up in the corner is a black Sharpie portrait of a man resembling Jesus.
“That would good in black and white,” she says. “Because of the texture.”
Some photos look good in black and white, depending on the photo, some look better in color. Dolin appreciates how colors come together yet notes black and white focuses more on the subject. The indecisiveness seems to work in her favor, having a strong interest in both.
A new facet to her life is to be the subject of Scott’s photography. It’s a strange experience because she doesn’t quite know what to do with herself. Scott is good about providing direction. At the age of seven she remembers wanting to be a model, imagining how great it would be. Dolin’s mother was a tomboy, a sweatpants, sneakers kind of woman. She took Dolin to an audition but it was a scam.
“They said, ‘pay us all this money and we’ll turn you into a model,” she says with added punctuation. “My mom said hell no and I was so mad but then I forgot about it.”
In public school she felt awkward about herself, saying that she’s always felt awkward, because of her height. She’s admittedly clumsy, perhaps coming along with the territory of being tall. Dolin is self deprecating about it though.
“I knock stuff over, beat Donald up totally by accident all the time,” she laughs. “You’d think I’d get a hold of it by now. I haven’t grown anymore.”
Thrust into being a subject of photos and ads Scott shoots for Edge of Urge, Dolin is quite simple about it, stating that if it wasn’t Scott taking the pictures she wouldn’t do it ordinarily. But the photos are rich in color and Scott gets images with Dolin that others probably couldn’t get, photos that encompass playfulness, inordinate colors, style and Dolin’s classic beauty. Scott sees something and is very supportive of Dolin, makes her feel good about herself and it shows in the shots.
“With him I’m so comfortable,” she says. “He shot me on bicycles and that wasn’t hard at all.”
She’s humble about looking at the photos, mentioning that its not really her at the center but the photo itself. She doesn’t see herself but the overall result, that some of them turn out horrible and some are really good. A model would see something else perhaps but as an artist she sees more than herself.
“If I’m changing positions they turn out the best, there are ones with movement… I like the ones with movement the best.”
The month of June has been about packing and saying and enjoying as much she can of her home for last five or so years. There are things to miss but much to look forward to in Chicago, making art and doing work for bands. Dolin doesn’t plan to advertise, she’s quite frugal admittedly so and may try school again. Scott will continue photography. The city will be beneficial for Dolin and her art, a continued artistic growth.
But moving to Chicago in July isn’t a big deal for Dolin. She says she’s pretty easy going about things and that Scott’s been in Wilmington for a long time. He’s wanted to move to Chicago for a while and has family there.
She doesn’t suffer from delusions, knows she’ll have to have a day job. She’s going to work towards supporting herself through art, aware that it’s hard to do, not minding art as a side thing as long as she can do it.
“If I couldn’t do art I couldn’t do anything.”
Things are hectic with packing and preparing to move. Dolin wants to get back into going to shows, shooting photography, looking forward to digital because the ease of it, no darkrooms.
For some, digital photography, makes the art less special because of the easy access to technology. Dolin prefers it to some extent.
“Art should be something that you want to do, to do for your self. It does take a certain eye, a certain something to take pictures. But there’s so much out there. It’s a love hate thing.”