Interview / Jan Dove

That which you loved as a child, that is your truest instinct.  Abandon it and you will never be happy.

– Jan Dove

Oola as Antiope, All Due Respect to Watteau

Oola as Antiope, All Due Respect to Watteau

She is an artist who uses the camera, the pencil, the computer, the printing press as tools to allow stories about her world to surface in whatever form they take.  She studied at Cal State East Bay and also earned an MFA from School of the Art Institute of Chicago.


Oola, Jan’s alter-ego

We’d like to know your background.

I am a visual artist, trained in printmaking at Cal State East Bay and at School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I have always been an artist. But my earliest memory of being recognized as an artist was in the third grade when teacher chose me to make the Christmas tree bulletin board. Unfortunately, I caught a cold and had to stay home, and when I came back to school, to my great disappointment, someone else had finished my work!

Where do you gather most of the inspiration for your works?

My work has always had roots in the Narrative.  Not narrative in a linear sense.  Still the story in some sense has been part of my work in some way.  If you are old enough to remember the 70s you will understand that art school did not favor the Narrative in visual art.  There were still too many Modernist teachers around who did not know that they were in a post-Modern world.  And those teachers were hard for the self-esteem. But my need for “Story” won out.

Water Book, as installed in water

Water Book, as installed in water

Which of your artwork pieces is your favorite?

My favorite is usually the one I am working on.

When I see some really good art, I feel that I must get into the studio ASAP. Then I play around until something comes together.

In the best of times, I run into the house to exclaim “Look what happened in the studio!” I have the feeling that I have been a funnel for something good to come into the world.

Oola Gone Baroque, all due respect to Watteau

Oola Gone Baroque, all due respect to Watteau

What do you think the artist is in society?

The artist sees what is possible and is an instigator of change.  At the highest levels the artist tells truth to power.  Unfortunately, at times the artist has been the canary in the coal mine of dysfunctional society.

In my life as an artist I have had the honor of helping to change other lives for the better — mostly working on the person-to-person level as a teacher of art, sometimes in schools, other times in prisons.

On the general level, I have seen over time that artists are the harbingers, and sometimes the hammers, for social changes that must be made, background changes, like the move from the idea of Artist as Hero to Art as a function of the community.

Over the years I have received fellowships to make my work at artist colonies.  Now, I have received recognition for being an artist who helps others through art.  But at the artist colonies I have felt honored just for the fact that I live my life as an artist.  This is rare occurrence in our culture.  We in the West need to have more recognition of our “national treasures”, like Japan has for its best artists.

What’s the best thing about being a woman artist?


Oola as Marilyn, All Due Respect to Warhol

Oola as Marilyn, All Due Respect to Warhol

What is the most difficult part of being a female artist?

Lack of money and time.

How do you manage in such a situation?

I have always kept a day job so that I can afford to make my studio a place where no one, no need, no force can control what I do or make.  Less time, but more satisfaction.

Did you ever feel like giving up?

One time, when I was an art student and a single mom I began to wonder if pursuing a life as an artist was fair to my child.  And how could I spend my life so hedonistically when there is so much suffering in the world.  I had a wonderful art history teacher, Mr. Pugliese, whose features reminded me of the Buddha.  One night I had this wonderful dream where I saw Mr. Pugliese/Buddha and I approached him asking wordlessly if I should continue with this art stuff.  As I got closer I saw that he had a gentle smile on his face and he was nodding his head “yes”.  Since dreams are the truest thing we tell ourselves, I have treasured this dream, and I return to it when times get hard.

What I tell my students is this:  That which you loved as a child, that is your truest instinct.  Abandon it and you will never be happy.

How do you look at your previous pieces?

Once in a while it is fun to look at old work to see who I was back then.  But mostly, I just keep on moving on.

How does your cultural background affect your work?

I grew up in a staunch Catholic black/white, right/wrong world.  When I worked as an artist in prisons, I came to see that world-view as unreal and unkind.  Now – though I don’t do this consciously – my work is usually both right and wrong, both black and white, contradictory at times.  Ambiguity is my hard-won friend.

Open Road, page one

Open Road, page one

Open Road, page five

Open Road, page five

What are you dreaming of?

When I worked as an Art Administrator in a women’s prison I got to bring artists in to teach their skills to my inmate students.  One of those teachers was a doll maker, Margot Jensen.  During one of those classes I got to make a silly little doll.  I named her Oola and put her in a box.

Several years ago she came out of the box and developed as an alter-ego through whom  I began to develop my feminist critique Western Art History, when I saw how Art History is STILL being taught in our schools.  Digitally I injected Oola into some of the top-forty Western Art History “classics” to question both motivation and results.

Oola grew into this person who travels with me and says things I personally am too “well trained” to say.

My dream is to continue on the Oola path in some way.

Oola as Goya's Maja

Oola as Goya’s Maja

Oola in Eden, All Due Respect to Van der Goes

Oola in Eden, All Due Respect to Van der Goes

What is up and coming for you, as projects?

For now, I will continue to see where the artist book making road takes me.

What do you want to do next?

I write an art/travel blog  If I had my druthers Oola and I would make more road trips, visiting artists who interest me, photographing and writing about them.


If you were interested in her artwork, visit Jan’s website and Women Artists of the World !


Presented by International Foundation for Women Artists