Hope you’re ready to get a little artsy.
Photos by Iris Ray
We got a chance to visit Schelsey Mahammadie-Sabet–the 28 year-old artist and owner of Leiminspace gallery in Los Angeles’ historic Chinatown plaza. Schelsey’s gallery is on the rise, becoming a community hub for some of today’s most game-changing young artists and creatives. We talked it up about all things art-student-turned-gallery-owner related. From learning lessons through depression, knowing how to set boundaries, and finding a career path that inspires you every single day. Oh, and we got a chance to play dress up in a few gallery-approved pieces. Read the story and shop it all below.
How did you first get into art?
I’ve always been an artist–painting is some of my earliest memories. My mom studied interior design and she opened up a business with my dad. But she has that background and she always showed me artists at a very young age. In school, I was always that kid who was “the artist” of the class. I would get into trouble for drawing on my desks. It’s always been a part of me. Toward the end of high school, I was kind of stubborn–I didn’t want to go to college for art. I thought “if we’re going to spend all of this money on school, I need to do something that I really really need help in”, so I decided to do physics.
When I was 19, I really struggled with anxiety and depression, and it kind of took over. When it was time to go back to my second semester, I took it easy and only took a math class and an art class. My art teacher was like “What the hell are you doing in physics? You have to do art instead.” So I decided to do a double major. The whole reason I wanted to do physics was because I thought it would be mentally stimulating. But then when I took a critical theory course, I found that art is intensely stimulating and challenging. I really like the intellectual side of art and I like writing about art. I think writing about art is the part of my job I take the most seriously. So I ended up realizing I didn’t want to be a physicist and I ended up doing art. I ended up graduating with art instead. It’s kind of sad because I feel like I could have graduated with a physics background. Maybe when I’m 60 I’ll go back. I don’t like leaving things undone.
How did you come to open Leiminspace?
I opened almost three years ago in August 2015. My family owns the building so basically that’s how it happened. If I didn’t have that resource, I would never be able to do what I do. Because with building a community and selling art, you really need the space and that’s difficult to acquire. So I’ve always felt incredibly grateful for it. That’s kind of what drove me to open a space for others. I was like “I was given this space and I want to see what I can do.”
“If I didn’t have that resource, I would never be able to do what I do.”
When I first opened, it was right on the brink of when people started to understand that Instagram was a really good tool for marketing art. I had all of these people I was following since I was sixteen and wanted to reach out to them because I saw that they were starting to be serious about their art careers. I wanted to see if they would want to have a show. That was the first step.
Was it difficult to convince your family to allow you to use the space as a gallery?
They’re businesspeople. We’re all kind of self starters. My mom is from Nicaragua and my dad is from Iran, and they both came here respectively from wars in their countries, and they really had to start from the bottom. We’re really hard working people. I think that’s why I can’t sit still and always have to do something. I told them my business plan and how I plan to sustain the gallery. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to fall back on that as a primary source of income. My plan was to rent the space out for events and that’s how the gallery funds itself.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since opening the space?
It’s a bit about communication and it’s a bit about the ability to say “no”. Saying “no” is something that’s really hard for me. Wanting to please people is a big thing for me. I really want to give them the best show ever and meet their wildest dreams–but that’s expensive. If it’s not expensive, it’s expensive in terms of time. I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights and the art is always fun and stimulating, but this is back to the boundaries and self care–you have to set boundaries and say “no”. Being able to be like, “no, that would be a dope idea but I don’t have the funds for that and I can’t pull an all-nighter all the time”.
“You deserve to honor yourself and honor your ideas.”
What would you say to young artists who dream of opening up a space of their own?
I tried to be really open with other people’s opinions in the beginning and I never want to think that my opinions are better, but I kind of wish that someone told me early on “Hey, you’re the boss. If you have an instinct, you have to go with it aesthetically and business-wise”. Because you’re the person in control and you’re the person who’s going to take the heat. A lot of times it’s difficult to be in this position, because when you’re running a gallery or a space people see you in a position of power, but it’s still incredibly hard. There are so many discouraging days. You’re going to be the one taking the heat so you deserve to honor yourself and honor your ideas and put your foot down. It goes back to setting boundaries and saying “no”. The fact that I decided to do this alone shows a lot of courage and vision. You really have to stand your ground and say “no, I fucking got this”.
Keep up with Schelsey and all things Leiminspace, here.