SHELBY DRABMAN | ARTIST | OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA
Shelby Drabman and I go way way back to the first day of freshman year of art school, when having only met me briefly via the internet she marched into my dorm room and declared that we were going to be friends. Convinced by her charm and the fact that she was wearing barbie shoe earrings, I agreed. That winter we met up in San Fransisco and had a very long day dream conversation about our future lives living in a painted lady apartment and becoming successful artists. Flash forward six or so years and Shelby is in the bay area turing that day dream into a reality.
Residing in Oakland, CA Shelby is creating a seriously inspiring career for herself as a maker. She currently works out of a women centered studio in West Oakland where painting has become her newest medium. Inspired by everything from the California landscape, to Hip Hop lyrics, to sensory memory, to everyday garbage her work is an ever evolving world of wonder to get lost in. Below Shelby shares a bit of insight behind that world.
Portraits of Shelby in her studio shot by Leah Tumeran
Can you talk a little bit about your background? How did you become interested in art and painting in particular?
I can’t even think of a time when I wasn’t drawing or doing art of some kind. I come from a family of artists so I think it was inevitable. Painting in particular I started just this year, at SAIC I was primarily in the Fiber and Material studies program, screen printing was my main obsession and I wasn’t into painting at all. When I moved back to the bay area this past October I joined a studio space in West Oakland with no screen printing space so I thought I’d try to paint instead. My new obsession has begun.
What does your current creative process look like?
Honestly? I smoke a joint and start mixing colors until it feels right. My practice is incredibly spontaneous, every time I have ever planned out a piece of work it has been a complete failure. I let the colors sort of guide the shapes until it becomes something I can play off of and relate to. Many of my paintings begin with me thinking about how they would look as fabrics, especially in repeat. It’s important to me that I use acrylics because I change my mind constantly in the studio and the faster the paint dries the more I can modify it. I used to try to start AND finish a painting in the same day which was awesome but then I started making paintings that were 80 by 80 and decided it was time to slow it down.
I love the element of play and pattern in your work. What are you thinking about when making a painting like 'Bout It' and 'High and Dry'?
I’m thinking a-lot about my travels through the desert and all across the United States. My boyfriend and I have gone on 3 cross country road trips in the past 4 years and it’s been really interesting to compare landscapes especially in different seasons. (Also hip-hop, I’m always thinking about hip-hop). I ultimately would like to make paintings that create inescapable environments for the viewer. I would hope that when you’re in front of it, you feel as though you’ve entered a new dimension. I have an uncontrollable need to fill the white space of the canvas and to completely encapsulate the viewer in colors. I’m super interested in sensory memory and I draw a lot of inspiration from Ernesto Neto’s work of physically being inside of a piece of work and taking it all in: the smells, the colors, the overwhelming feeling that you’re somewhere else entirely.
The fact that you can create a beautiful traditional painting on canvas but then turn around and create an equally cool painting on PVC material and then turn around again and create work on wood or fabric or ceramic is really wonderful. Can you talk a little about these aesthetic choices and how you navigate across mediums?
My main source for ideas comes from materials for sure. Sometimes I’m looking for a specific texture that only comes from a specific material or finding some kind of medium that will create that pattern through texture. I like garbage quite a bit and I find the best stuff in recycling bins that inspire my shapes or I can physically use them in my pieces. I started making sculptures because I wanted to see how my patterns would change placing them on a different shape. I get really excited about that shift of flatness interrupted by an actual object.
Does design play a role in your process?
Inspiration wise, yes. I am constantly looking at design blogs and design magazines for inspiration. Furniture design, ceramic design, obviously textiles. Really well made products excite me because then I can turn it around and make something super imperfect based on like, a beautiful mid century modern lamp.
Does living in California influence your practice and or your creativity?
Holy shit yes. I grew up mostly in California but then I moved away for several years and when I returned it turned into a new place for me. The ocean is for sure my biggest inspiration, pools of water and sand and plant life really excite me. I never knew how obsessed I was with palm trees, and actually most California trees and plant life I come across. Their shapes and colors are really mind blowing and incredible sources for my work. I have been looking through David Hockney’s portfolio everyday since I returned to The Bay, he is my number one artist inspiration when it comes to the California aesthetic.
What are the biggest creative/professional challenges you've come across in the last year?
I mean, living and working in the Bay area is really hard work. Oakland is the most expensive place I have ever lived and I have lived in A-LOT of places. My paycheck to paycheck struggle is a huge bummer especially when you start buying a bunch of expensive paint. I have been working in restaurants for awhile and had the pleasure of working at Bar Tartine before running an after school art program at a private girls school in SF. My biggest challenges have definitely been trying to find multiple jobs that allow me to live well and have time for my studio practice during the week. I would ultimately like to work as an artist and have no other jobs at all. I have had nothing but success creatively in my West Oakland studio working with women that have really inspired me to work my ass off.
How does social media play a role in your career as an artist?
It’s so important to my career. Instagram has been a crucial device in terms of getting my work out there and showing my progress in the studio. I’ve made a few major sales through instagram. I feel like even my website isn’t as effective as the gram.
Does collaboration play a role in what or how you create work and how?
I think collaboration is really important for brainstorming and I love making work with other artists in the same studio but when it comes to my painting practice I am really in my own head and see it as a kind of personal journey.
Who/What is inspiring you right now?
Food is inspiring me a-lot right now, I have been flipping through the insane collection of cookbooks my boyfriend has acquired over the past few years. Food styling has inspired many of my shapes in recent paintings/drawings.
Five artists/designers the world should be watching out for?
Ladies that inspire me:
- Molly Bounds aka @moldybongs on the gram Painter
- Alexandra Bowman @alexbowman Illustrator/Printmaker
- Geana Sieburger @gdsclothgoods Designer/Cloth goddess
- Trudy Benson @trudybenson Painter
- Mandy Lyn Ford @Bettyscreams Painter
Five of your favorite places or small businesses in Oakland?
- Homestead Apothecary
- Trouble Coffee
- Urban Ore(Berkeley but i’m obsessed)
- The Parkway Theatre
Best piece of advice or words of wisdom you've received?
“Who cares if it’s weird, just do it”
Your own words of wisdom for young artists/designers?
One thing I wish I had figured out sooner about life after art school is that finding a dream job right away is rad but not what happens to everyone. I spent so much time worrying about money and how my job(s) didn't relate to my education but those other jobs: which for me were in the food industry, made me hustle much harder in my studio. I learned physical skills that will help me throughout my life and I made connections in unexpected places. Now after working my ass off I have a job I really love that gives me the flexibility to work in my studio more often. I also recommend learning as much as possible from makers in other fields...you never know what ideas you might come up with when you learn how to use other materials in unexpected ways at unexpected times. In school I took everything from pattern making to video art classes and I have used them all in one way or another in my practice.
What's next for you?
I recently received one of the scholarship slots for West Coast Craft where I’ll be displaying and selling all my work in public really for the first time ever since I started painting. That’s November 14th and 15th at Fort Mason Center in SF! Also that weekend I will be involved in a pop up shop called Scraff-e-Mart on November 14th at Scraffito Gallery in Oakland.