Mab Graves has a true love affair with narrative. Having been brought up by parents who felt it was important to read their children bedtime stories, Mab developed her passion for storytelling at a young age. Her exposure to the fantastic descriptions and dramas which unfolded from fairy tales and classic literature sparked her youthful imagination, and to this day, provides her with a never-ending flow of stardust coated inspiration. One of Mab’s central aims is to create imagery which adds beauty to a world too often filled with darkness and suffering. She certainly achieves this and a whole lot more. The whimsical wit and ethereal elegance of her painted universe whisks us away to frolic amidst it’s merry band of waifs and strays, who run amok in adventures that continually open hidden doors to magical lands of mystery and wonder.
Mab Graves is an American artist who currently lives and works in Indianapolis. She is a self-taught artist and regularly exhibits her art worldwide. Mab’s work has been sold in over 56 countries. In 2013 her first book of paper dolls was published by Dover Publishing.
WOW x WOW is honoured to be able to bring you this exclusive interview with Mab, in which she talks about the vital ingredients that go in to making her beautiful work.
Hi Mab! First of all, thanks very much for taking the time to have this little chat, we really appreciate it. To start us off, if you would please introduce yourself, touching on anything you feel relevant to story of Mab Graves the artist?
Well, my name is Mab Graves and I am a contemporary pop surrealist painter and illustrator. I’m shorter than I look in pictures and somewhere between the ages of 7 and 77 depending on the day. I have a huge passion for science, dinosaurs, vintage toys, picture books, rocks and minerals, things that are so ugly they’ve come full circle back to cute, all things vintage 60’s, especially anything space related. I listen to audio books while I paint and drink copious amounts of green tea.
You recently visited Australia for the opening of your most recent solo show, the wonderful ‘Spectrum’ exhibit at Auguste Clown Gallery. Can you tell us a little about your new body of work and also the trip itself? How did you enjoy Australia?
Visiting Australia was awesome! Everyone was so nice! I got to meet a wombat in real life, which was a bucket-list goal, so I was thrilled. The show was amazing! The Auguste Clown crew were all pros, so everything was so smooth and relaxing (not generally the norm for an opening!). For the Spectrum series I decided I would unleash all the pieces that had been living inside my head that had been wanting to come out, that I’d never been able to grant myself the time to create. I wanted to avoid being tied to a central theme and give myself the liberty to play with inspirations I’d been holding onto for years. I decided to challenge myself by exploring new themes, working in new shapes, and most importantly, playing with new spectrums of color.
Storytelling and narrative are at the heart of your creative process. In your opinion, what are some of the most important ingredients that go into making a successful visual narrative?
I love creating art that makes me laugh. I have a quirky sense of humor so I love playing that into my paint. It’s not the laugh-out-loud kind of thing, but I love telling stories that are funny in a sweet, weird way. I think visual narrative has to be something that people can look at and (for the most part) understand. Not something that has to be decoded or explained. If my studio visitors come in, look at my canvas and smile, I know I’m on the right track. The beauty is in the simplicity.
Do the interpretations viewers offer about your work ever end up influencing what you produce? What are your thoughts about the dialogue and conversation cycle which is created between the artist and viewer?
I don’t think they really influence my work, but I really enjoy hearing what others read into it! I tend not to offer any explanations, because I think the stories I paint are different stories to different people and I never want to limit them.
I’m pretty much a hermit, so most of my interactions with viewers are online, so the interpretations usually come once the piece is finished and I’ve posted a pic. I love how different one piece can be to so many people though.
How important is the role of your subconscious to your creative process?
Imperative. I am a self-taught painter, so I don’t really have a grid-work for how I do what I do. Painting for me is very intuitive and organic. If I try to bring my conscious mind into the process, things get jumbled. I don’t really know what I’m doing, it just comes, as long as I release the reins of trying to understand it.
Aesthetic beauty is an important aspect of your work. Can you talk to us about your thoughts on the subject? If you could also discuss, why, during an era when so many artists have moved away from the importance of beauty, you feel that it should still be championed and celebrated?
For thousands of years, basically since the beginning or Art, painting has been about preserving beauty and telling stories. I love the legacy of it. Good art has generally always turned a few heads and raised eyebrows, but the Greats did it in a way that was veiled in such mastery it was hard to object to. I think we’ve been painting for so long, and so much has been ‘done’ that many artists are trying to find their voice and still shock the masses in our ever increasingly desensitized society. A bare ankle or a lascivious faun just won’t do it these days. So much art has become more and more grotesque and vulgar to try to pack that age-old punch. I think we already have enough darkness in our world. And I like to look at beauty and innocence. It’s something to aspire to in life, and so that longing comes out in my work.
You refer to yourself as a Pop Surrealist. Could you please define what the term means to you and what your hopes are for the future of the movement?
The current term for what I do is Pop Surrealist, but I call myself a Dreamchild Neverist. It’s a term I completely made up and means about as much as any art labeling. I guess the best way to describe my work would be an Innocent, Yet Slightly Ominous Mash-Up Between Fine Art, Story Books, Anime and 60’s Big Eye Culture. Dreamchild Neverist – or Pop Surrealist is a much shorter description, so it’s handy. My only hopes for the future of the movement are for more of the amazingness that’s going around. Sometimes, just scrolling through my feed I get so totally excited and inspired by the incredible things my friends and other people in the movement are creating, that I literally get giddy. It’s so cool to be a living working artist in this time. I love getting to watch it happen!
Many of your works are inspired by stories and fairy tales. How much of a distinction do you feel exists between illustration and fine artwork, and if one does exist, what do you imagine the defining differences to be? Or do you feel this is an irrelevant concept?
Oh I think for me at least, there’s a big difference. My fine art paintings and my illustrations are very different for sure. Illustrations are simpler, they are about storytelling. My fine art pieces are way more serious, not necessarily in tone, but the amount of work and detail changes. I can complete an illustration in a day or two. A painting could take weeks or a month! My illustrations are usually mixed media – graphite, ballpoint, ink, gouache, acrylic, colored pencil, pastel, art marker – every medium does something better than the rest so I mix liberally. My fine art paintings are oils. Straight up on the rocks. I’m sure it’s different for everyone though.
How has working with an assistant changed your working day?
It has SAVED me! Mainly my sanity, but also my hands (I’ve had arthritis since I was 14). Back B.D. (Before Darcy), I would spend the first 8-10 hours of my day answering emails, packing, shipping, and organizing all of the shenanigans that running an online shop entails, before I ever got a chance to start ‘working’. There were a lot of 18 hour days. There still are a lot of 18 hour days, but now much more of that time is devoted to my real work – painting.
In order to get a better understanding of the personality of an artist, it can help to get a peek behind the curtain. Would you be willing to share a story from your own life, one which you feel has contributed to shaping the person and therefore the artist you are today?
I am one of four sisters; four girls born in the span of five years, so we were all really close. I love my sisters more than anything in this world and I paint them constantly. We had really awesome parents who were super supportive of the arts, so growing up we were always creating and always encouraged. We would do grand theatrical productions in out basement, dress up in our great-grandmothers old hoop-skirts and have dances on the back deck, and were all constantly escaping to Narnia in recess at school. My parents would read aloud to us at night instead of watching movies and we loved it. Each one of us always had a project while they read. Knitting, sewing, drawing; every kind of tiny creative project we could do in our laps while they read to us. I think that has a lot to do with my passion for the combination of creation and stories, also my love for listening to audio books while I paint.
If you could own one piece of art from the world’s collections, what would it be and why?
Oh oh ohh! Easy. Rudolph Zallinger’s ‘Age of Reptiles’ mural at the Peabody Museum of Natural History. It’s my favorite piece of art in the world. Zallinger was a master and I love his combination of colors, incredibly rich details, and the old 1940’s style of the Dinosaurs. It was way before we made dinosaurs buff and sexy (bleh).
What’s next for Mab Graves?
Well, speaking of dinosaurs, I’m currently in the research phase of my next body of work for the Fall of this year, titled ‘Children of the Nephilim’, which will be a series of paintings involving dinosaurs, black-winged waifs and sherbet-colored worlds. I’ve been visiting museums, combing through tons of reference books and listening to hours and hours of lectures and documentaries while filling sketchbooks. I can’t wait to get it finished!