Dawline-Jane Oni-Eseleh is a multidisciplinary artist and teacher, and one of the most prolific artists I know. Almost every day, Dawline posts something new that she’s working on. She and I kept showing up at the same events in the Bay Area, but it wasn’t until I hosted a post-election craft day that I got to see her work in person. While the rest of us drew or printed, she was working on an elaborate linoleum block of David Bowie.
Dawline was the first person I thought of when I decided to embark on this project, and I’m so happy to share her interview – and her work – with you this week.
JH: When kids say that they want to be artists, most grownups assume that they want to become painters or illustrators (or, occasionally, sculptors) – but never printmakers. How did you find your way into this medium? What other media do you work in?
DO: was first introduced to linoleum block printing in 9th or 10th grade. I can’t even remember what we did – but what I remember most is putting the lino on the radiator to soften it up during the winters and stabbing myself in the hands constantly. I was fortunate to go to school in a district and at a time when we had a substantial art department, so I got a chance to experiment and take classes in graphic and fashion design, painting, drawing and film photography. I think photography is where I developed a deep love of process – from choosing a subject, composing the shot, shooting a roll, hand processing the film, and then all the steps of composing and enlarging a photograph instilled a true appreciation of aesthetic and craftsmanship at a young age. We even leaned how to hand cut and hinge mats. All of that paved the way for me to integrate printmaking into my work – there’s a lot of thought and set up that goes into it.
How would you describe your work?
I often describe my work as being figurative, graphic (in the design sense, not the explicit sense) and narrative. Most of my work is part of one long story, even if I’m the only one who knows the full plot. My work is strongly influenced by advertising, Ukiyo-e prints and pop culture –little snippets of stories of daily life.
What’s the first thing you ever remember making?
One of my earliest artmaking memories is of painting in my room in a sailor suit – white shirt, big collar. This is an important detail because I remember getting really dirty. It was watercolor. I may have been around four years old. It was probably an abstract.
Most working artists I know have more than one stream of income – something that pays the bills other than just art sales. In addition to making art, you also teach a lot. How do you balance everything? Or do you?
This is my first year as a teaching artist, and I love it. There’s so much to be learned from showing people how to see things differently and translate what they are seeing and thinking about into something tangible that I find it helps me concretize some of my own thoughts regarding my practice. Making my own art work is something I feel that’s crucial to my sense of wellbeing, so I squeeze it into many facets of the day that might be considered “downtime” – whether it’s walking my dog and taking reference photos, sketching people on the train during my commute or keeping my phone and a sketchbook by the bed. That’s probably not the healthiest choice, and may not be for everyone, but it keeps me engaged. I never feel like I’m neglecting my artistic practice, and it’s easier for me to jump into longer projects when I have the time because the ideas and muscle memory are always fresh.
What are you currently working on, and why?
For the past year or so I’ve been making my way through family albums and stray photos and making linoleum blocks based on these photographs as a way to recreate a quasi-historical narrative. When I think back on some of my earlier work, a lot of my portraiture revolved around friends and their stories. As time goes on I feel drawn to exploring some of the bits of my own family and history, and being a bit more personal with my work. It’s my contribution to the tradition of an oral and pictorial history, one that I feel will change dramatically as our relationship to photography and the way we document our lives changes. I’m thinking specifically of social media, and the way that it encourages people to share information about themselves daily that has no precedent – from the deeply mundane to the explicitly specific. I also saw a commercial for some software app that makes it easier to get “perfect” pictures of your kids by making it so that you can switch out their frowns for smiles, or lighten the room or what have you. It’s packaged in an innocuous way, but it literally changes history. In recreating some of these old snapshots – with their inherent mystery and imperfections and unanswered questions I feel like I’m dialing back the clock on that a little.
Do you have a dream project (or two)?
Boy, do I! One of my biggest dreams has been to do an illustrated or graphic novel treatment of the book Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. It’s so vividly visual with a message that should be remembered. Now I feel as though I should just carve out some time to do it…
I’d also like to figure out a way to go on an artist residency – somewhere beautiful away from computers.
More teaching this year. I’m also looking forward to possibly curating a gallery show later this year, which is exciting. I have work in a couple of shows coming up – one at Sleeth Gallery at West Virginia Wesleyan College opening 1/19 for a show called “Home”, and at the Richmond Art Center for their “Teacher is Artist” show, which runs 1/10- 3/4.
How can people find you?
Facebook: Dawline-Jane Art & Illustration