“I would like to be the hermit,” she says, currently in the midst of a career that is so busy and mentally driven that she craves time alone in a small corner of the world, where she can turn off her brain and create art, silently and fluently.
A longing for the studio is a familiar sensation among the few artists who are as committed to their community as Rachel Wacker, a.k.a. Dolan Cyr, a St. Paul-based artist, curator, and community art facilitator.
Cabin Fever No. 14, Pastel on Paper, 54 x 54"
Wacker understands the two main roles that are required of a professional artist, which face each other from polar opposite ends. There is the artistic role, which Wacker embraces with freedom and uncertainty: creating art that to her is intuitive, spiritual, and personal. Then there is the professional role, which for Wacker also includes the wider community: the job of getting the art out into the world where it can seek an audience, become part of a dialogue, and hopefully sustain the artist's livelihood. Maintaining both roles is exhausting and conflicting, like traveling back and forth between two dissimilar realms, stirring a mind battle between the magical and the rational.
The path to becoming an artist is vaguely marked and seldom celebrated. An artist has to define their own measures of success, which often do not align with conventional ideals of success. When Wacker was studying Fine Art at The University of Notre Dame in the late 1990s, she was adamantly told by professors that if she ever wanted to be an artist she would have to attend graduate school immediately after undergrad. The art that her teachers wanted her to make fell against her own instincts. There seemed to be a regiment to becoming an artist. She had a fear of never becoming one. She realized a contradiction during class critiques, when some of the most talented peers in the class struggled to define in words what they had created in visual form, as if being assigned to speak a foreign tongue. Wacker understood that their shortfall of analytical terms did not, and should not, dishonor the quality of the visual art they had created. Everything that she had been taught in school about becoming an artist had collided with her own intuition about art-making, and she made a conscious decision to take the rules and “throw it all away”.
Sky (detail) from the Winter Women series, ink on paper, 11 x15"
After graduating with honors in 1999, Wacker spent the next decade creating art and supporting herself with side jobs that were far removed from the field of art. “I quietly worked on my art and brainstormed ways to bring art into the lives of my fellow citizens.” She surveyed the same questions in her head that every young artist asks of themselves: “Why am I doing this? Does anyone care? Where does my art fit in?”
In 2009, Wacker began her involvement in the Lowertown art community of St. Paul. She volunteered for an artist-run gallery called Peach (later renamed Echo Arts) and worked as a curator and event coordinator where she “was able to test and experiment with the art outreach ideas that I had been brainstorming over the past ten years.” She co-founded the art collective Rage to Order and spent the next few years working with other local artists to coordinate pop-up exhibits and arts events. She began exhibiting her art more actively, showing under the pseudonym Dolan Cyr in order to differentiate between her two roles as Artist and Art Facilitator. The name was derived by combining the last names of her two great grandmothers, Anna Dolan and Victoria Cyr. Wacker's ideas and values about art were coming together. She made it her mission to help artists, and help others appreciate art. She explains, “art is relational. You're literally trying to start a conversation. Responding, speaking back to the world by creating something.”
Endowing the Maiden, acrylic on panel
Wacker kept expanding her community involvement and trying new ideas, while forming a set of guiding principles to work from, which included treating artists with empathy and respect. Acknowledging that she had attained a strong set of professional skills, she realized that she could help bridge the gap between the artist who struggles to articulate their work in a class critique and the professional demands that are expected of him or her. Wacker was working alongside fellow artists in Lowertown to help shape an environment in their community where working artists could survive. Her vision to create an economic model to support working artists means that artists can keep creating and sharing their work, bringing people together for the betterment of the whole community. For Wacker, it means a solid foundation of support for when it's time to return to the studio to create more art. Perhaps other artists in the community could take turns stepping into that gap, “standing guard” while fellow artists take their turn to create art in the studio.
She views her career from the long perspective, over the span of a lifetime. What she may not be able to focus on today, there are years ahead that hold time for more projects and personal studio time.
When she was just beginning her life as an artist, she remembers her elders telling her “not to worry,” because one day she will grow out of her impossible dreams and her struggles. In the art community of Lowertown, Wacker talks to the elders in her field who admit that they are still trying and struggling at what they do. Wacker is relieved to hear that because, she says, “I couldn't imagine anything more scary than growing out of caring, dreaming, and trying.”
For more info, visit dolancyr.com. The artist has open studio hours every first Friday of the month at 308 Prince Street #420 in St. Paul. Her work is currently on view at The Show Gallery in Lowertown, St. Paul, and she will be exhibiting her work at “Art on Armitage” in Chicago in July, 2017.
Banner image: Cabin Fever Self Reflection by Dolan Cyr