Light up and settle in for the brand new GRAV Featured Artist Series!
Every few months, we’ll be commissioning an ultra-talented artist to create a GRAV-exclusive design. All purchases during that artist’s residency will include an 8” x 6” print of their work. This initiative will allow us to support independent artists and introduce our community to creators who embody what it means to find your higher self.
Our first GRAV Featured Artist is ggggrimes, aka Gabriella Grimes, a digital artist whose work expresses the joy and beauty of queer romance, friendship, and self-love.
“I didn’t understand that I was non-binary for most of my life, even though I always felt it,” they said. “I grew up constantly realizing I was different, but lacked the vocabulary to explain my experience. I realized I was gay many years before I let myself talk about it openly.”
While struggling with these feelings of otherness, they also had external challenges to face. One came from school, where queerphobia and racism led Gabriella to homeschool as a teen in the Bronx. That struggle was only compounded when their family lost their home and moved into a shelter. Gabriella was 17 at the time, and it would be years before they found a stable home again.
Art was a throughline during all of this turmoil. They created abstract watercolor paintings and collages through their teen years, but they didn’t necessarily plan to make it a career. By 2017, they were in college studying music and struggling with an abusive on-again, off-again partner.
During a job as a junior counselor at a summer camp, the kids noticed Gabriella’s doodling and were amazed. “[The kids] reminded me, ‘Oh yeah, I’m pretty okay at art and enjoy doing it.’”
They ordered a cheap sketchbook and watercolors from Amazon and started painting in earnest. Arteza Supplies provided a helpful upgrade by sending them free watercolors. But the biggest breakthrough took place when their brother bought them a Huion drawing tablet.
“I had no idea what I was doing, and I made some pretty bad art for a few months before digital art started making sense to me. As my knowledge of digital painting expanded, I fell in love with it in a way I’ve never fallen in love with another medium. I still do watercolor paintings from time to time, but this art is what makes me happiest.”
Some artists channel their difficult pasts into art that reflects their darkest moments. But while Gabriella has had more than their fair share of challenges, their art presents a queer utopia full of joyful people of color.
At first, it was difficult to find their place in the art community. “I remember feeling worthless for so many reasons: because there weren’t many resources on how to paint dark-skinned people, because most popular artists on Instagram at the time were white, because I had white artists giving me unsolicited advice about my artwork, because the greatest white artists only ever painted other white people.”
“A combination of being closeted as non-binary, closeted as a lesbian, and getting over racial trauma from my previous relationship and academia all caused me to say, ‘Fuck this! I hate that this is the art world.’”
Instead of playing along, they developed their own signature style. The colors are muted yet rich, the details are whimsical, and the subjects portray a dazzling diversity of nonbinary and queer people of color. Couples flirt with each other, fall in love for the first time, and worship their own bodies unashamedly. Gabriella’s art has amassed an enthusiastic community of over 85,000 people on Instagram.
“I’m a Black queer artist painting queer people of color, creating a safe space for us that we don’t get to see often in the art world or the world in general. I invite everyone to be present in this space, and I’m able to help people relate to others through my artwork. It’s an incredible feeling.”
Gabriella finds inspiration in the everyday, whether it’s in a great tattoo, other queer artists, or the love they share with their partner and fiancée, Heidi.
“I follow so many other awesome queer folks from all types of backgrounds, and the ways that queer people I know have fun, joyous, loving lives makes it so easy to imagine a world where this is the norm for everyone.”
Before they can create, they have to absorb. “One of the most important things as an artist is feeding our creative soul with others’ art. We inspire others and get inspired by what others do, so taking in artwork is something I do daily.”
The day’s creativity starts with the setup: water, a smoothie, and a little background noise—usually a TV show. “I never paint to music because it’s too distracting for me and changes my mood too much.”
But if the inspiration just won’t come, they give themselves a break. “I used to make myself feel really guilty about taking breaks, and sometimes I still do. But if the tank is empty, that’s okay...Things that help are exercising, going for a walk, eating my favorite foods, getting high during times I normally wouldn’t, and spending time with my loved ones. All of these things help me get more inspired without making my relaxation about work.”
The past year has been particularly challenging for Gabriella. They spent seven years in Manhattan, including the beginning of the pandemic when New York was hit especially hard, and it took an emotional toll.
“At the start of the pandemic when my partner and I still lived in the Bronx, we heard ambulances nonstop. Mentally, I’m still in July of 2020, mourning all the lives lost while still trying to deal with BLM being in the news cycle. I’m still thinking about how ‘in my face’ it was that I could die at any moment from a plethora of factors out of my control. And if I do, it will still somehow be my fault. My artwork is based on joy, and I haven’t been feeling very joyous the last year.”
Once again, Gabriella channeled this hard time into something positive to “spread some Black queer joy”—a financial grant to provide support for a fellow artist.
“I was homeless for many years, and the last year is the most stable housing I’ve had since right before I became homeless. I suddenly had money like I never did before! I took a couple months to save up $1,000 from my store sales, and used that to create my Black Trans Artist Grant.”
Gabriella’s art is stunning. But to be the kind of person to give out $1,000 of your own money to help another artist? That’s something else entirely. After assessing the 150 applications, they awarded the grant to Jonathan Soren Davidson (whose art you should definitely check out).
Gabriella’s inspiration for their Featured Artist print came from an apt source—the feeling of being high.
“My body feels amazing, my thoughts slow down, and I can enjoy the experience of being in body without the added weight of stress. Everything looks more interesting, everything feels softer...it just feels good.”
We are so honored that Gabriella agreed to be our first Featured Artist. An 8” x 6” print of this design will be included in all GRAV orders placed between June through August. And if you want to make life imitate art...check out the Small Beaker Base Water Pipe just like the one in the painting.