When Mab Graves is talking, I always stop to listen. It’s worth taking the time. She is a highly sought after interview subject. She creates wonderfully accessible fantasy worlds through her paintings and drawings, and I think we are all drawn into them and want to learn more about the woman who created them. But it goes beyond that, or her renown and popularity. When Mab speaks about her art, the art world, and life, in general you know you are listening to a woman of substance. Someone who has thought deeply about her life and it’s challenging circumstances and the relationship of her art to herself, the art world, and to the wider art community. It is clear she has experienced and examined these complex relationships and found her place confidently within them.
Mab’s art is the way in which she enters the world, and the way in which we enter hers.
Mab’s 2016 Beautiful Bizarre Magazine takeover provided a fascinating focus on the influences on her art, as did her insightful and informative 2016 discussion with Patrick Schillen for Beautiful Bizarre’s exclusive Open Call.
I recently had the delightful opportunity to talk with Mab about her second Children of the Nephilim show, her cast of characters, and her approach to her art and the art of others.
You are working towards your solo show Children of the Nephilim #2, for Monster Gallery this November. This is the second part in a series that was planned to be in two parts, exploring themes of prehistoric creatures, aliens and angels so I’m thinking this will again combine your love of dinosaurs and the prehistoric with child characters that have a special place in your heart and repertoire. I was interested to read that the Children of the Nephilim is a biblical reference. From my understanding, it is the children born from the union of the sons of God and the daughters of man. Can you explain what this means to you and why you chose this particular reference for the characters in the series?
Yes! My Children of the Nephilim show will be opening this November. This series started germinating in my mind all the way back in 2013. It started with a completely unplanned painting of a little girl riding a brontosaurus for my Runaways show. The moment I started painting her, I fell completely in love. I knew I wanted to create an entire series around this idea. I was booked several years out at the time, so I didn’t get to really begin the project until 2015. It was a tricky concept. I knew I wanted girls and dinosaurs, but how was I going to approach it? I didn’t want the confusing juxtaposition of modern-day girls (because, why?) but it also didn’t make sense to have Neanderthal children – the timelines would still be unexplainably skewed. Then I remembered something: a tiny biblical passage I had read as a child in Genesis. A passage about the Nephilim.
Here’s a breakdown: As the stories go, when God cast the Devil out of Heaven, all the angels that were on the Devil’s side (called the Nephilim) were banished and cast down to earth. Eventually the Nephilim fell in love with human women and their unions created a race of giants who pretty much were bad asses. In the Apocrypha, the Nephilim taught man magic and astrology and many, secret things that were not in the Natural Order so when God saw the abominations to his perfect design he sent the Great Flood to wipe them out reset the course of history.
The beginning of time and a race of giant, winged children in a realm of tainted paradise? I loved it. It was perfect. The Children of the Nephilim was officially conceived.
I had no idea what a rabbit-hole of strangeness I was falling into when I landed on the Nephilim. My research rapidly led me down an increasingly bizarre path of xenoarcheology, Interventionist conception, Sumerian history, Annunaki speculation, exobiology, and human origins theories. It was all completely and utterly fascinating and mind-blowingly inspiring. I wanted to include layers upon layers of symbolism in these pieces, giving little tributes to every conspiracy. This project ended up having such dense bones and being so much bigger than I had ever dreamed it would be! In November of 2015 I released the first part of the series “The Children of the Nephilim: Genesis” that was a collection of the very detailed graphite drawings made in the first year of my research and an introduction to the world of the Nephilim. I’ve spent the last two years working on the oil paintings that will be released this Fall. I’m SO excited to release them, and simultaneously dreading having to leave the creative space I have built in this little world.
I would like to explore the idea of the recurring characters in your paintings and drawings. As an artist I find this a wonderful aspect. These little people and creatures deepen the ongoing narrative in your work, and give further substance to an imaginary world into which you invite us. Like a running TV series, we wait to see those familiar faces in various episodes you create for us. I’m sure I have read that some of these have come from the more troubling moments in your life, like ‘Drop Dead Fred’, to help you or comfort you. Some seem born of the things you love, like Star Wars. Could you introduce us to some or all of these characters and describe a little of their nature?
Oh yes absolutely. So my paintings and my drawings originate from two different motives. My drawings and sketches usually stem from personal stories; sort of a way to process the world and things I’m dealing with. They are generally humorous (to me) and a bit more narrative. My paintings usually address much larger concepts; things like belonging, fragility, introversion and death but in beautiful, strange and gentle ways. My recurring characters have mostly all come to me, unbidden. They show up in my sketchbook one day when I am meditating on something particularly difficult – all the sudden a visual encapsulation of that emotion or problem will appear.
Here’s a rundown on some of my characters:
Ransom: He’s my nephew and ALWAYS the hero in my sketches. He’s a 6 year old boy with brown curly hair and blue eyes who is very good at Science and Kindness.
Farrah: Farrah came to me shortly after I found out I would probably never be able to have children. Farrah is Ransom’s cousin. She is a little older than he is but they are best friends and do everything together. Farrah is a fur girl – covered head to toe in silky, pinkish fur. She is pretty self-conscious about it. She is a lot stronger than she thinks and when she’s feeling protective can bite through a laptop or rip down a small tree.
Caturn Aliens: The bad guys. The live on Caturn but mine muffins from the Moon. They are always showing up in my sketches scratching, chasing and hoarding things. Their fur is greenish and they wear space suits.
Murl: He’s a possum boy. He’s also a very dedicated boy scout and is always (rather annoyingly) coming up with complicated solutions involving chewing gum and shoe strings that never really work. He’s also (possumly) ALWAYS getting into mischief or climbing places he can’t quite get out of.
Monday: Monday came to me when my battle with Endometriosis was at it’s apex. She is pretty much a visual representation of Endo (for me) and she is a BRAT. Monday is super selfish and is always eating things – even when those things ask her politely not to.
Tallulah: Tallulah is a little Vampire girl. She is me when I was a child (I was always rather somber and shy). She’s 7 and will always be 7. She’s very creative, and darkly sweet. She gets very sad that she has to stay in the shadows, away from the sun. When the others are having Day adventures she has a big black umbrella and glasses she wears so she can tag along. .
Bat Girl: Bat Girl represents someone in my life who I desperately love, but has deep personal struggles. In my sketches she is the older cousin of Ransom. She’s very quiet and very protective of him. She’s sort of the background Wendy and always has Band-Aids in her pocket.”
As a follow on, I feel I would be correct in saying you have a strong belief in the cathartic nature of art, at least in your life. How does your art and creativity help you to deal with life and it’s curve balls? Can you give us some specific examples of art you have made specifically to help with situations?
I think aside from the obvious explanation of “hopelessly obsessive creative”, it probably stems more deeply from my belief system. I’m a Transcendentalist, and I believe in the inherent goodness of humanity and our ability to achieve higher states of Self and Being through the act of creation. Whether that is through art, writing, poetry, fashion – any act that involves contributing to the beauty in this world and connecting to our humanity. I get so much personal healing, peace, and happiness out of creating.
You remind me of Picasso, in terms of your artistic practice. When I saw a major exhibition of his work, the aspect that struck me most forcefully was his sense of play, with materials, with technique. Here was an artist clearly having fun with the process and not at all concerned with the product. I feel you are similar, constantly playing and moving between 2D and 3D, painting to drawing, to needle-felting, dioramas, sculptures, fun headwear, designing plates.
Will you explain the importance of this multi disciplined approach to your art and where you think it stems from.
For me, it’s a constant communion with a state of passion – whether it’s working for months on an intricate oil painting or twisting a found bit of paper into a little creature while standing in a checkout line. It’s been such perpetual practices for most of my life that it’s not even something I really think about. If my hands can touch it, it’s not nailed down, and I have a free moment, I want to make something out of it – or paint it to make it beautiful or silly. Elements around me are always putting themselves together in my head begging me to execute them in real life.
You also instigated the October Drawlloween, which has become an epic annual event. Could you also tell us how Drawlloween came about and your feelings about it now that it has grown?
Drawlloween was something I started doing just for fun – it’s been something artists do on the internet for a few years now, and I decided I would make a special club #mabsdrawlloweenclub so that I could help emerging artists practice daily creation (it’s SO important and really hard for some people do without a real objective!) and a way for my fans to get to play along with me directly every day. I always do a lot of giveaways and silly things throughout the month to rally the troops, and I feature some of my favorite creations daily. I’ve heard from a staggering amount of artists how much it has impacted them – bringing them motivation, new friends, followers and collectors! It’s grown so big at this point I have to pretty much take the entire month of October off to handle it! I try not to schedule any shows or make travel plans.
One last aspect of your artistic practice and construct of the art world that I’d like to touch on, is your inclusiveness and thoughtful nature. You spend a lot of time encouraging and giving shoutouts to other artists, through posts on Instagram. Can you explain how you see the artworld and your role in it?
I remember being 7 years old, in First Grade. I was standing in line in the hallway watching the big, COOL Fourth Graders walk by. They didn’t notice us, because we were the little kids – but we were awed by them. I remember thinking “when I’m in Fourth Grade, I’m going to remember what it felt like to be 7.” I remember thinking just HOW MUCH it would have meant to us if one of them noticed or were nice to us. That promise to myself crystallized that feeling inside of me. I have never for one moment forgotten what it felt like to be 7. It’s exactly the same with the Art World. When I was starting out, I can’t imagine what it would have meant to me if one of the big, cool artists reached back and included me. That’s the person I want to be.