The Brooklyn-based artist doesn’t need permission to do her thing.
Grace Miceli, known to some as Art Baby, produces work that punches you in the gut and makes you laugh–sometimes at once. It’s visceral, fragile, and gives no fucks. She’s the mastermind behind gallery collaborations with the likes of Tavi Gevinson and Petra Collins (maybe you remember 2015’s Girls at Night on the Internet at Alt Space in Brooklyn), and now hosts a site where you can buy her work, transposed onto jackets, hats, and panties (a favorite is the tee with an innocuous pastel bunny on the front, picking flowers in a “Fuck the Police” shirt). We sat down with Grace in her Brooklyn apartment to chat about patriarchy in the art world (patriarty), messing with space and time, and not wasting life trying to be likable.
What were you like growing up?
I got in trouble with all of my teachers for constantly questioning them and wrote my parents a two page letter when they wouldn’t let me see Titanic in theaters. Surprisingly I didn’t have many friends.
Was there a moment when you were like, “Fuck it, I’m going to be an artist”?
When I was studying at Goldsmiths in London I realized it was something I was always going to do, it was just a matter of figuring out how it fit into my professional life. It wasn’t until last October that I quit my day job in retail and committed to the career of a freelance artist and curator. It was–and still is–really scary! But I was at a point where I couldn’t juggle a day job and the opportunities that were coming at me as an artist. I think the lack of stability pushes me to always be brainstorming new ideas and dreaming up projects, because I have to if I’m going to be able to pay my rent.
What challenges have you faced being a woman producing female-centric art, and what kind of unique support have you gotten?
I think there is a notion that as a female I can only make work that females will relate to–which is ridiculous–but I have gotten that response before. Masculinity is so fragile; like, it’s ok to look at my cute art, dude! But yeah, the majority of my support has come from other female creatives. Since the art world is extremely patriarchal, we need to lift each other up if we come into positions of power, and that’s something I’m always working towards myself as well, providing a platform for other creatives who don’t benefit from the many privileges that I have.
There’s a tension in the way nostalgia intersects with technology in your work–talk about that interplay.
I’m interested in nostalgia and technology as ways to access and to travel, not literally, but in your mind. When I see imagery of toys or snacks from the ’90s, I get to escape my current reality for a moment. It’s the same with technology; I can leave my tiny bedroom in Brooklyn and hang out with my friends in L.A. or London. So combining them feels like I’m messing with space and time a little.
You’ve empowered yourself to be able to capitalize on your work–talk about the hustle aspect of being an artist.
Being an artist is definitely hard work, especially when you have to work three day jobs at the same time, which I did for years. It’s not a profession that is valued very much here in the USA, and I would like to see it understood more universally as an act of labor, something you get paid hourly to do. I also think it’s important to note that as a white person from a middle class background, even though I completely support myself now, my upbringing allowed me to consider the possibility of having a career an an artist, which is something many marginalized people don’t have the luxury of even considering.
Youthfulness plays a huge role in your art–using markers, references to food that’s marketed to children (Caprisun, Captain Crunch), cartoons–talk about the significance of that theme for you.
I guess I think it’s a real bummer the sort of serious and boring aesthetic that seems to come along with growing up, so it’s an attempt at rejecting that. I’m so inspired by the way that kids are able to look at the world–with possibility and wonder–and that’s something I want to be able to keep doing, while still paying attention to the many harsh realities we face. Also I want to make people smile, and that’s what colorful, silly, bright imagery does for me.
Part of what’s so exciting about your art is the way it combines vulnerability with irreverence. Talk about that contrast–is it a conscious move? Is it ever scary for you?
It feels honest to me to experience those contradicting emotions. Some days I feel really sensitive and want to share that, and some days I don’t care about anything at all. So yeah, it’s a conscious move for me to not censor myself. Not too long ago I started to realize that trying to be likable was really holding me back and wasting a lot of my time. Letting go of that was scary, but I’m so grateful for it.
What’s on the horizon?
I really want to keep traveling with Art Baby Gallery doing pop-up exhibitions in different cities all over the world. I also want to start working on my first solo exhibition and an educational animated series, so anyone that wants to help me make these things happen, HMU!
Photos by Anna Harty