Art Stars: Artbabygirl
Photography by Alex Wallbaum
Photography: Alex Wallbaum
Interview: Michelle Varinata
Grace Miceli isn’t afraid to make waves. Known as Art Baby Girl, the New York-based illustrator and curator has built a cult following around her cutesy camp drawings noted on Tumblr's radar, and even seen as the cover art of Larry Fisherman and Ariana Grande's "My Favorite Part." Whether it be a box of Frosted Flakes, Furby or lamb, Miceli’s drawings easily make you exhale “Aww!”, all while underneath the Crayola-esque colors and ‘90s-esque cartoon graphics, there is an awareness provided between the humorous and the political. Miceli and I discuss what’s it like to manage her roles between commerce and fine art.
Michelle Varinata: Who inspired you to start drawing?
Grace Miceli: In school I had to take an Intro Drawing class even though my major was Film and Video. I was really bad. I couldn’t figure out perspective or how to make anything look even remotely realistic. Because of that, my work was really funny and entertaining so I embraced that, and continued to explore illustration.
MV: You have a very distinct style. You often rotate between outlines, no outlines, and the color feels washed out. How did you develop this?
GM: I started drawing with Crayola markers on printer paper because that was all I could afford. I think it works really well with my subject matter, so I’ve stuck with it. As I’ve been drawing for years now, my style has evolved and I experiment. I’ve learned what I like. I’ve moved on from not outlining to outlining most of my drawings.
MV: So many artists go through phases, but at times, they stick to what they started with. What is the one subject you've always wanted to depict, but have never gotten the chance to do it previously?
GM: I’ve never had a reason to not draw anything I wanted to. Anytime I’ve had an idea or a subject I’ve wanted to draw, I’ve just done it.
MV: You mention that you decided to release all your work online as opposed to the galleries in Chelsea. What advantages were you able to experience by going virtual?
GM: [Yet] again, this wasn’t something I was able to choose. As a young artist in NYC, there weren’t opportunities for me to showcase my work. I just had to do it myself. Online spaces are definitely more accessible to the general public than physical galleries.
MV: I remember that you curated a show called "I Play No Games" at the HOLYRAD Studios, where you featured other NYC-based artists like Shana Sadeghi-Ray and Signe Pierce. What was the inspiration behind this show?
GM: I was asked by BOOM to curate the exhibition and I wanted it to be as inclusive and interactive as possible. I think being an artist makes me a better curator and vice versa. They are practices that inform each other. When I curate I get to work with other artists who mostly are my friends. [It's] a really fun way for me to collaborate because my drawing process involves a lot of time alone in my studio.
MV: Your work tends to touch between playful yet socially conscious. Which issue stands out to you the most and why do you connect to it?
GM: I’m learning that the only issues I can discuss through my work are the ones I’ve experienced myself and for other more important issues, it’s my responsibility to use my platform to amplify those voices and experiences.
MV: These days, artists like yourself often rotate between fine art and commerce. For example, Nike had you customize their merchandise from clothes to shoes. As someone who does both, do you feel that there is a pressure to separate yourself from the two?
GM: Yeah, I think lots of people pass judgement upon artists who work commercially but that doesn’t make much sense to me. Unless you have someone else financially supporting you, it’s basically impossible to make a living off just selling your art without gallery representation (which most emerging artists are not offered) or another day job, especially in a city like New York. With every commercial project I’ve done, it has been a very respectful collaboration with the client. They’re hiring me because of how I draw. I haven’t found myself forced to compromise yet.
Originally published in IN #6, Fall 2017