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More on the Vaquera Sudoeste Cowgirl Series

Dolan Geiman's Vaquera Sudoeste / Original Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Collages

Dolan Geiman's Vaquera Sudoeste  original Día de los Muertos collage series featuring a cowgirl with sugar skull make-up

The Vaquera Sudoeste (Southwest Cowgirl) series of original paper collages and translated art prints is one of the most popular in Dolan Geiman’s extensive artwork collection -- view the sugar skull collage collection. These colorful figurative artworks inspired by Latino culture and the Southwest feature a cowgirl brandishing a pair of pistols with a sugar skull face and other accents inspired by Día de Los Muertos. While the overall composition of each Vaquera Sudoeste paper collage artwork is the same, each iteration in the series is unique and created by hand with an original set of salvaged paper and other materials. Individual artworks in a series vary in color, pattern, typography, and the handmade frame. In the Vaquera Sudoeste series, the shoulder accent on the cowgirl is the most noticeable variation and often gives the artwork its name.
each Vaquera Sudeoste paper collage features a unique color palette and thematic composition most noticeably seen in the shoulder detail

The Story Behind Vaquera Sudoeste

Many people ask about Dolan Geiman’s use of Mexican imagery and iconography in this series and other artwork. In response to one recent questioner, Geiman recounted living in the southside Chicago neighborhood of Pilsen for 15 years. “My community members, neighbors, friends, and fellow artists were 90% Mexican. These were folks who migrated straight to Pilsen from Mexico. I embraced that community and felt like I had found a wonderful place in the world.” Even after moving to Colorado, Geiman brought the imagery and inspiration of his Mexican neighbors with him. “The icons, heroes, and heroines of the Latino/Mexican culture remain an integral part of my growth as an artist as well as my own personal inspiration.” 

For the Vaquera Sudoeste series, Geiman was inspired by “strong and powerful women who were not going to be told to back down.” The many women in Geiman’s family, including his artist mother and sister, his many aunts and his Cuban-born grandmother, were all strong individuals, critical in shaping who he became in life. For this series and others, Geiman came up with a, “band of folk heroines who wield guns and are beautiful but are also strong.” Geiman imagines these heroines as distinct individuals with unique personalities and style. “They come from a place of strength and nurture, fiercely protective of their family, community, and sense of right.” Dolan Geiman has been making these images of strong women for years and years, before cell phones and Instagram. He made them when he lived in abandoned spaces and they have evolved over the years, inspired by the people around him and his experiences in the world. As he says,  “These images are my inspiration and they are my personal icons, and as an artist I have decided to share them with other folks.” 

Themes in the Vaquera Sudoeste Series

The Vaquera Sudoeste series is all about the interplay between life/death, light/darkness and positive/negative. All of the heroine Vaquera figures feature a white skull face reminiscent of the painted sugar skulls (calaveras) used to honor departed souls in Mexican culture. Geiman also includes other skeletal accents like the cervical vertebrae seen in many Vaquera necks and often menacing accents like snakes, scorpions and spiderwebs. Of course, these cowgirls also brandish a pair of pistols with crossed arms, a show of power if not outright challenge. These images of death and threat interplay with the colorful vibrancy of the pieces, the floral accents and, perhaps most of all, the direct gaze of the female figures. Even in facing or in actual death, these women are strong, beautiful and unafraid. 
The Vaquera Sudoeste series is all about the interplay between life/death, light/darkness exemplified here with snake and flower

Dolan Geiman continues to be fascinated with the celebration of death in Latino culture and specifically the holiday of Dia De Los Muertos in Mexico, during which deceased friends and family members are remembered. The Day of the Dead is thought to be when the souls of deceased ancestors and loved ones reunite with the living descendents and friends. This reunion is celebrated with prayer, graveside visits and offerings, raucous parties and parades, painted faces and sugar skulls, and special altars to the dead called ofrendas. It’s a glorious celebration of life, surrounding the often feared or at least quietly avoided subject of death. 

The Making of Vaquera Sudoeste Paper Collages

Dolan Geiman paper collages are often mistaken for paintings at a distance, but in fact, they are composed of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of hand-cut papers. “All of the paper I use for these collages comes from abandoned spaces--old factories, forgotten farmhouses, warehouses, and materials I find on the street—and nothing newer than 1970.”  Some papers date as far back as the 1800s and represent a lifetime of  collecting vintage magazines, hand-written letters, primary school lessons, comic books, and old maps, just to name a few. All of the papers are meticulously cataloged in the studio, sorted by age and color. When it's time to create a collage, Dolan grabs his favorite pair (or pairs) of scissors and combs through this paper collection to find all of the appropriate colors and images. 

each Vaquera cowgirl collage is constructed from hundreds of hand-cut papers

Geiman explains, “Once I have gathered up a pile of vintage papers, I sketch out an image on a board and start cutting and gluing all of the papers to the surface. My images often tell a story, and my subject matter is usually derived from folktales I heard as a child growing up in a cabin in Virginia. Though I’m often asked if I have a special tool to cut the papers, I only use scissors. I do not use any other tools or pinking shears to make the cuts.” 

The artist uses no paint to color the papers used in his original paper collages. The only paint used is in the white-washed background and the occasional detail line added during completion. All Dolan Geiman paper collages are created on wood panels with a base layer composed of papers from old songbooks and hymnal pages. These background pages create a subtle texture and musical imagery visible in the painted surface and pay tribute to the way music is interwoven in many of our lives.

Once complete, the collage is sealed for posterity and then the process of framing begins. Each collage frame is custom built in Geiman's studio using reclaimed material. Having lived in Chicago for many years, Dolan collected very special remnants of antique ceiling tin which he rescued from the wrecking balls of construction. As the old grocery stores, pharmacies, and neighborhood storefronts slowly faded away, Dolan saw the beauty and history in the discarded materials and has preserved them for use here in his artwork.

Vaquera Sudoeste Metal Wall Sculptures

Often, Dolan Geiman relishes the challenge of translating his detailed paper collage artworks into metal versions. As you can see, the Vaquera Sudoeste series also includes many iterations in metal -- view the sugar skull metal collage portfolio. Like with the paper collages, the materials for metal wall sculptures are also salvaged from abandoned places like factories, warehouses and the street. Unlike paper, the rescued metal must first be flattened to be used in the artwork and thus requires some extra care and physicality. Once flattened, the metals are sorted just like vintage papers into color, type and texture. As Geiman explains, the different metals are “pulled like paint colors to weave the composition and create a subject of beauty and power from this otherwise rough material.”

Dolan Geiman creates metal version of his popular Vaquera Sudoeste cowgirl series constructed from hand-cut tin metal

Like with paper collages, the metals in Dolan Geiman’s wall sculpture are all hand-cut and adhered to a wood panel. For the metal wall sculptures, sturdier tin snips are used to cut the metal and screws must be used to affix the various metal pieces. Sometimes intact found object metal pieces, such as this coin, are used in the metal wall sculptures. Since a written signature proves more difficult on metal artwork, Dolan Geiman also includes an aged brass “signature plate” on the front of these pieces.

Interested in this Series

Join our First Look email program for email notification when a new Vaquera cowgirl is created. Join via our  Interested in an Original Día de los Muertos Collage? info page.