Wednesday Indie Artist Fixx with Dolan Geiman

For today’s Indie Artist Fixx I’d like to share my interview with super talented artist Dolan Geiman and his girlfriend and business partner Ali Walsh. I’m very happy to be able to share Dolan’s work with you, since I’ve been a fan since he burst on the scene in 2005. Whether he is creating colleges, shadowboxes, art decor, sculpture, paintings, rescued wood assemblages and more, Dolan infuses his work with his unique perspective of the world. He is a southern boy living in the big city of Chicago and his work is in large part based on this dichotomy, themes of both nature and contemporary life can be found throughout his work. Learn more in my interview below with both Dolan and Ali.


1. What’s the name of your business and what do create and sell?

Dolan – Dolan Geiman. I create contemporary art and décor, ranging from framed collage to sculptural works on wood.


2. Tell us how you got started with your indie business.

Dolan – My mother helped me get started as she has always been a professional artist. I learned a handful of things from her before I moved to Chicago, but I still needed some help developing the business side of my work. When I met Ali, she was really excited about working on something new and she was very motivated to work outside of the gallery spectrum.

Ali – I attended undergrad at the University of Chicago. While doing coursework in chemistry, physics, and other pre-med requirements, I found myself increasingly interested in Chicago’s cultural community versus summer internships in labs or hospitals. I interned for the Museum of Contemporary Art, I spent my spring and winter breaks volunteering for arts organizations. I even dabbled in PR work, mentoring with a freelance public relations consultant for arts organizations. Dolan and I met at an interesting juncture in my life – I had lived in China and had aspirations of promoting Chinese artists in the States but needed more money, experience, and connections to really do anything serious with my interests. I started working with Dolan and, essentially, began learning more about the art world, arts administration, and business start-up by way of promoting him. We made a great team from day one. We are very fortunate that we can make a business relationship, especially one of artist and manager, work within the confines of a personal relationship as well.


3. What are your inspirations in your art and in life?

Dolan – If I could just grow a beard and live in the woods, I would be very very happy. So I would have to say that Mother Nature keeps me going every day….which is a lot to say, living in the city. Every chance I get I try to go out to the woods or at least stick my feet in a river.

Ali – I find inspiration in my parents whom also have a personal/business relationship and built a company from scratch that provided a very comfortable life for myself and two sisters. I also find inspiration in businesses outside of the creative sphere and thinking of ways to reinvent their means and methods into our own tiny company. I’ve always had this insane work ethic which, I admit, borders on unhealthy at times. At least, six years later, I’m working around the clock because I love what I’m doing with Dolan so much. Maybe I’ll also exhaust myself to the point that country living with Dolan sounds pretty darn appealing.


4. Are there any pearls of wisdom you’d like to share with newbie indie business owners?

Dolan – Everyone always told me to save money along the way, to just put some aside for later in life. I think that’s a great sounding idea, but it’s not practical at all for young business owners who are just getting going. So I would say, instead of being constantly worried about money, just be more focused on what you are really good at and what you enjoy. Ironically, that sort of mindset makes your company grow, become more profitable, and more sustainable overall.

Ali – I’m happy to field questions from anyone in the creative field. While our travel schedule sometimes limits my availability, I do my best to respond to all inquiries via phone or e-mail.


5. What three things can’t you live without?

Dolan – Ali, fishing, sweet tea, and (can I name four?) my family. In that order.

Ali – Dolan (he kind of set me up for that..haha), vegetables, e-mail.


6. What’s the best thing about what you do? And the worst?

Dolan – Being able to use my creativity every day is definitely a blessing. I am very fortunate to have found a career that I can pour myself into. However, sometimes I work too much and don’t spend time with my friends and family, so it can be a bittersweet thing at times.

Ali – I enjoy traveling to art fairs and seeing so much of the U.S. from the road. Dolan laughs because he does all the driving and I’m either looking around, responding to e-mails, or reading some mind-numbing bestseller crime novel. I also love the challenges of this profession—it feels pretty good knowing that we’ve worked hard and finally have a nice studio space to show for it. The down-side of this career path is that I have difficulty imagining the possibility of a family. Let’s face it – Dolan would make a great Dad – he loves to play with bugs, he embraces finger painting, he creates fun shapes out of his dinner on a regular basis. Maybe that’s our challenge a few years from now – how to work less so we can enjoy the other aspects of life a little more.


7. What blogs and mags do you read and what shops do you shop at?

Dolan – I don’t really have time to shop like I want to, but I like the aesthetic of Anthropologie (who doesn’t) and I like the prices at Unique Thrift Store. I pick up Metropolitan Home, Elle Décor, and Southern Accents every now and then, but that’s mainly to look for new clients.

Ali – I like the blog sfgirlbybay a lot, I think because we share an appreciation for the crunchier side of life. I also think Emily of Orange Beautiful does a fantastic job over at her blog, The Scoop. I’m still looking for a blog devoted to the rural, raw, Southern flavor – like cole slaw recipes, rusted weather van collections, and profiles from the folk art world’s finest. For that reason, both Dolan and I enjoy our friend Chicken George’s blog, Chicken Dead Chicken. In terms of magazines, I make time for all the local publications because it’s important to me to know what’s going on in our city. Shopping wise, I’m a big fan of Abigail Glaum-Lathbury, a local designer carried by Habit. For eco-lines, I recommend Pivot Boutique and Green Home Chicago Design Center. This summer, Dolan and I are also hoping to make it to the Kane County Flea Market.


8. Were you an artsy craftsy kid? If so, what kinds of things did you do?

Dolan – I was pretty darn creative as a kid, again thanks to my momma and dad. We always made stuff out of found objects, mostly stuff around the barn. We made corn cob sculptures, corn husk dolls, dyed t-shirts in hippie fashion using poke berries, made mud paintings and cement sculptures with pieces of old broken bottles in them. I even remember picking bittersweet berries off fence rows in the fall to use as table décor.

Ali – When I was young, I participated in some sort of painting class in which the instructor would provide pre-cut wooden objects (like a cow) and we were instructed in how to paint them. I loved those classes and kind of wish Dolan would do a similar activity with me now! Overall, though, my interests were soccer and school.

9. Are you a dog person or a cat person?

Dolan – I love animals, but I’m not too fond of having pets in the city. I think dogs need a place to run around and chase rabbits. I like cats too though because they have this expression that says “I’m so smart, you don’t even know.” Most people don’t know that I grew up on a farm with 5 dogs and 22 cats. All the dogs were adopted and some of the cats were house cats, but when you live on about 25 acres there are always stray cats. And we fed them all. When I move back out to the country, I’ll definitely have pets again, but I think they’ll just be wild animals that I give names to.

Ali – Neither, but I somehow adopted a turtle during college and he was pretty neat.


10. What does indie mean to you? You can give a literal definition, choose to be a little esoteric or a combination of both.

Dolan – There’s a lot to be said for being independent, but to me it just means having the foresight and determination to bring your best ideas to fruition, knowing that they are different and might not be widely accepted at first. Independent artists are the ones who make our generation what it is.

Ali – Having worked in the gallery world for a short stint and dealing in folk and outsider work, a world plagued by semantics, definitions, and stratification, and having discussed this in the music realm as well, I kind of turn off when it comes to definitions. In this regard, I really like what Circa Ceramics said in their interview, “Anyone carrying their own weight as an artist, crafter, baker, gardener, coffee roaster—this can go on and on—is indie.” I think of indie in this vague sense of being self-made and industrious.


11. What are you reading, watching and listening to?

Dolan – I’ve been trying to finish Lonesome Dove and Moby Dick, but I got sidetracked by the thought of spring. I have trouble concentrating and sitting still when I have tons of ideas, and in the spring it’s really hard for me to focus on one thing. So I usually just eat a bunch of cookies and run around my studio and make a bunch of work. I recently got on this weird KMFDM kick, musically. And also I love Tony Rice, his bluegrass stuff mostly. It reminds me of Virginia.

Ali – Our two recent Netflix movies were Into the Wild and Night of the Comet. I recommend Into the Wild, but Night of the Comet not so much although there is definite kitsch appeal. I’m waiting for Dolan to finish Moby Dick so I can start it and then our two-member bookclub can discuss.


12. What’s one thing you’ve learned as an adult that you wish you knew when you were a kid?

Dolan – I learned that I should not have listened to most of my teachers in school. Sometimes teachers scare kids into losing their ambitions. We live in a society that tries really hard to pigeonhole kids, instead of letting them figure things out on their own. We’re way too protective. I think that totally screws you up. I spent five years in college fighting to retain my real creative ambitions. I want to get this point across: if you have a good idea, and you think it’s a good idea, don’t ask anyone else to agree with it. Just make it happen. If it’s good enough for you, it’s good enough to do. (Yes, that’s one of those grandpa rhymes) Whether it’s traveling to New York, hitchhiking to Utah, reading the entire encyclopedia, or building a raft and sailing down the Mississippi, just make it happen.

Ali – I’ll leave that question to Dolan as I think his point is very valid.


13. What’s new for 2008? Any new plans or products that you want to share?

Dolan – This year I plan on making a bunch of really large works. I have this new space, and I want to stretch my arms a little. Kinda like exercising…with wood and paint. And less sweat. I also want to rent a house in Florida or Georgia for the winter next year. Chicago gave me a nice winter spanking this year and I am gonna run crying like a little girl to the south next year.

Ali – We’ll be distributing our first wholesale catalog in a few months, including the panel paintings, Rescued Wood constructions, fine art prints, box art reproductions, and hopefully a new line called “wooden tiles” – a line of pattern-based works for modern homes. We’ll also be re-launching our website with a new design. Finally, we’re exploring a few new reproduction possibilities to expand our repertoire of mediums and pricing for designers/consultants working on hospitality projects. All the while, we have a hearty art fair schedule ahead of us from April through October.


One comment

  1. As an art student I find your art very inspiring!!! Great job, i love your art, it’s amazing!!! Very Creative and intersting process work in your sketchbook!!! You truly captured the essence of art itself… by bringing you own style!!!


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