Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Conversation with Mab Graves

Mab Graves
Mab Graves, an Indianapolis based artist, paints in the Pop Surrealism vein. Her artwork is full of whimsy and an otherworldly, surreal essence. Graves took time out of her busy schedule to talk with me about her artistic methods, artwork, and what it means to be a Pop Surrealist artist.

Can you tell us a little about your artwork, your Waifs and Strays, and your creative process?

I have all these little girls floating around inside me waiting (not patiently) to exist. 
I paint because I need to but these girls are not for me. Every piece I paint has a soul mate somewhere out in the world. Someone it utterly belongs to. I get a wild elation when they finally meet. That’s why I call them my Waifs and Strays. They are all little orphans that come out of my mind. I think of myself as a “surrogate painter”.

I understand that you are a self taught artist; can you tell us about your learning process? 
"Tentacle Tea Time"- by Mab Graves

I don’t think there was ever really a genesis for me. I guess it started right around the time I discovered crayons. I’ve been obsessed with drawing ever since, but I will create with anything. Fabric, foam, fur, you give me a pile of wire and make me sit still for five minutes and there will be a little horned wire creature coming to get you! 

I didn’t start painting till about 4 years ago (I was shy of paints- too fluid and out of control) but when I did, it was like discovering I had wings. It was like meeting my soul and getting addicted.

I made myself a promise years ago:
I told myself that I would paint, 
and I would keep painting till I got caught by something that 
I couldn’t figure out. Then I would go to art school. I’ve been in a few situations where I’ve said     “now how do I do THAT?” but to this point whether by looking, reading, or getting nose to nose in a gallery with a giant piece of art, I’ve never been faced with the ultimatum. Being an artist is all about training your body to recreate what you see in life or in dreams. Once you’ve mastered that, you’ve got it.

Are there any artists that inspire you in your work? If so who would they be and why?

"Into the Night" by Mab Graves
There are artists that inspire me of course! I have people  tell me all the time that they can tell my work is inspired by So an’ So, or Whoosit, but they are usually names I have never even heard!  The top two for me are Ray Caesar (a pop surrealist) and James Jean (an illustrator). I don’t know how much my work is actually inspired by them (very different!), but my soul certainly is!

While working on your artwork what themes, ideas, or concepts are you exploring?

I always start with a story. I love old fairy tales and folklore; they are a universal language and an innocent connection we all share. Usually, as soon as I pick a story, the image is there. It gets Mabbed up instantly in my head. I don’t really know where it comes from. I say my work is very “Grimmsical” (grim but whimsical). I have an odd sense of humor and I try never to take anything too seriously. There needs to be lightness to life.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Pop Surrealism movement, can you tell us a little about it and what it encompasses?

"Alice" by Mab Graves
"Candyland" by Mab Graves
Pop Surrealism is a marriage between surrealism and pop, usually with a heavy amount of symbolism and a splash of irony. You will find widely varying styles and themes, but it is usually a visual story with a twist. It’s not in any way abstract. It’s often highly illustrative, edgy and clever.  It’s been storming the coasts for years now, and is finally starting to make its way into the Midwest.

For you, what do you think the role of the
artist is?

I think every artist has a voice and their job is to speak to the handful of people that need to hear  what they are saying. This definitely does not apply to all artists, but for me – I have a secret, it’s just for you and me. I am going to tell a story and when you see it, you will understand it like no one else. I paint to make people feel special, unique, and understood. I paint secret companions. And it’s not for everyone – I don’t paint for the masses. My work speaks to certain people in a deep way. Those are the people I paint for.

"The Ferris Wheel" by Mab Graves
And finally, what advice would you give to emerging artists?
Mab’s Advice:

It requires so much more skill to be subtle than it does to be obscene. Darkness, sadness and filth are all around us, and I think it’s our jobs as artists to put a spin on things. I try never to underestimate the intelligence of my audience. You don’t have to spell everything out in black and blood to get people to understand your message. It is very important for me to try to maintain a dignity and a subtlety to my work.  A tinted innocence.

For more information about Graves and her artwork you can visit her website, stop by at Mab Graves Etsy shop, or follow her on Facebook.

All photos provided by Mab Graves.

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