Gabriella ggggrimes is one of my favourite digital artists on the internet. Gabriella started working on watercolour illustrations in 2017 when they were in college. Once they made the switch to digital, in 2018, their work took off. I was first introduced to their work on instagram late last year and was immediately in awe. Through the use of bold colour palettes their work beautifully depicts queer people and people of colour in unique and exciting ways. From images of people exploring their sexuality to images of people hanging out with their friends and partners, Gabriella’s work challenges common represeations of queer and POC folks. It’s been such a pleasure working with them on this interview. Read below as we discuss identity politics, the transition into compensation, the importance of representation and so much more.
Interview & Page Design by: Keesha Chung
Original Artwork via: Gabriella ggggrimes
Keesha - I love the way you use colour in your art. Can you speak to that element of your work?
Gabriella - I’m really glad the colours I use, get such positive feedback. It took me a long time to understand colours and develop a colour palette. A year ago, my work looked completely different, but through experimenting I fell in love with these vibrant warm colours. They trigger a sense of nostalgia for me, but also a happiness that can be had if I look toward the future. They’re pretty and make my heart happy, especially oranges and purplish-blues.
K - I feel like you must get a lot of positive (and negative) reactions to your work. What are some of the most moving reactions you’ve gotten?
G - The most moving reactions I’ve received are the ones when people say things to me like, “this reminds me of someone I know, and I sent it to them and they’re really happy.” I feel this incredible warmth when someone relates to my work in a physical way. Like, I’m so glad this couple reminds you of you and your partner. I’m happy your sibling feels seen. It’s incredible that you gave this print to your roommate that looks like this person I painted. I feel like I’m actually doing something real that’s affecting people in real life and not just in a purely digital realm.
Featuring a Black queer couple exploring their sexuality while respecting each other’s boundaries
"I feel like I’m actually doing something real that’s affecting people in real life and not just in a purely digital realm."
A girl at home alone on New Year’s Eve living her best life
K - How has your art helped you connect with yourself?
G - My art has transformed and evolved along with my acceptance and exploration of my identity. My non-commissioned paintings tend to be based on whatever I’m experiencing in my life. I had to accept my identity as a non-binary gay person the past year, so of course I’ve been painting queer folks non-stop. One of my latest pieces was a femme couple glaring and laughing at men who keep approaching them when they’re trying to have a couple’s night out. Yes, I’m super annoyed when I go out with my girlfriend and men are constantly trying to pick one of us up. My art has helped me find a way to let out my emotions and process them in a healthy way. I no longer avoid my problems, and I’ve grown more confident in my own abilities.
K - Can you explain what being gender non-conforming (GNC) means to you? What has the journey to this part of your identity been like for you?
G - Being GNC means constantly assessing who I am in the context of male vs female. I’m a high femme, raised in a West Indian household to be a hyperfeminine housewife. I deal with the trauma of that upbringing by embracing femininity. I love using it as a means to reclaim myself and it makes me feel like I’m performing. At the same time, I have to unpack what femininity even means, and the fact that I’m often not perceived as feminine in a Western context because of my clothing choices and race. I feel the most feminine in a long skirt with a crop top and platforms. This is not how femininity was shown to me during my development. I had to unlearn that femininity isn’t only a short skirt. I had to realize they’re both valid and it’s okay if I’m comfortable expressing my femininity through a lens that’s different than the one with which I grew up. Having a partner who’s a non-binary femme has also helped a lot. I feel seen in a way that’s difficult to interpret, but it’s a special feeling to sit there with a t-shirt and boxers on but have your partner say to you, “you’re so feminine.”
"I had to unlearn that femininity isn’t only a short skirt. I had to realize they’re both valid and it’s okay if I’m comfortable expressing my femininity through a lens that’s different than the one with which I grew up."
"international women's day" A beautiful trans woman with no assigned race
K - You use your Instagram to talk about (your) sexuality, gender identity, and mental health. What, in your opinion, are the benefits and pitfalls that come with using social media as a space to share such personal experiences and thoughts?
G - The greatest benefit is knowing that I’m not the only person in the world who thinks this way or has these problems. I can connect with people who struggle with the same thoughts and behaviors. Sure I’m self-destructive, but so are all these people all over the globe! And we can talk about it in a healthy way while respecting each other’s boundaries. We can share resources and advice. We can have validation in a space I’ve created. The pitfall is that people aren’t as good at boundaries as I would like. I have people emotionally dump on me without my consent quite often. I have people give me advice that I didn’t ask for and usually makes me feel bad about myself. There are people who think that because I share about my life and they can relate that means they know me and they’ve decided they can speak to me on the same level as a friend when I’ve never even spoken to them before. People also expect me to take care of them and their mental health, often reducing me to some queer Black parent they always wished they had. I get this the most from non-Black queers, especially white queers. It gets triggering and scary. I honestly don’t share as much about my life as I used to because of how people will warp it to meet their own goals.
K - I consider you one of my favourite meme accounts :) Why and how did that become apart of your online presence?
G - I’ve been posting funny things on my story since instagram introduced ig stories. It started off with a few of my friends telling me my stories were funny or corny. It made people I cared about happy. A couple months before this time last year I think I only had about 700 followers. My following grew and people just liked what I was doing. It stopped being about just some friends and turned into people telling me they started their day watching my stories, or did it during their lunch break. They recommend my account for memes and not just art. It honestly makes me pretty happy. I’m incredibly shy in real life, but I’ve always had people tell me I’m funny. I’m glad my sense of humour brings some joy into people’s lives.
“Your boundaries are so important to me.”
Learning the boundaries of the people around you can sometimes be difficult, but what makes it easier is open communication.
K - For a lot of artists, it can be really challenging to transition from doing your art for yourself to doing art for pay. How have you handled monetizing your work? And what was that transition like for you?
G -The transition was very difficult. I actually talk about this to other artists quite often. When you start off art for fun in a world where you’re told artists don’t even make money, it can be daunting to have to sell your creations. I used to do watercolors, and at a certain point I realized that I needed more money for supplies. People also kept asking how much I was selling these pieces for and I was confused, like, “why don’t you just let me give it to you for free?” It was new realizing that my labor for something I enjoyed was worth something. I also felt guilty for getting paid for a hobby. I undercharged people for a long time because of that for commissions and prints. It’s taken me time to understand that I deserve to be paid, and that if I have the opportunity to not be alienated from my labor, that’s wonderful as well.
K - Do you have any advice for others who may be going through this transition?
G - Believe people when they tell you that your work is worth more. Find your audience and figure out what they can afford while making sure you can take care of yourself. Only do what makes you comfortable. Some artists only want to do commissions, some only want to sell prints, some are happy being based entirely online, and some prefer selling only in person. Find what works for you and don’t traumatize yourself just to make a sale. Also, ask other artists with more experience for some advice, feedback, or encouragement. The art world is much kinder and supportive than media and pretentious scenes would have you believe.
"Believe people when they tell you that your work is worth more. Find your audience and figure out what they can afford while making sure you can take care of yourself. Only do what makes you comfortable."
Featuring an Afro-Latino trans man getting wooed by his waitress girlfriend
Featuring a femme licking their femme partner’s boot. Their gender is really up to you.
K - You said in your i-D interview “I try to show that queer POC can be happy, weird, expressive, emotional, and multi-dimensional. Our stories don’t have to be full of only sadness and struggles. We deserve to be seen and allowed to feel as complex human beings.” In what other spaces do you think we need to fight for this type of positive visibility?
G - Every single space! I’m talking clubs, movie theatres, academia, award shows! I want the stories of QTPOC plastered around the globe down to every bowling alley and McDonalds. That’s a bit dramatic but the point is I’m so exhausted how little representation there is for us, and the representation we do see is so often traumatizing. We get it! We’re traumatized! We are currently experiencing trauma! However it might help just a tad if instead of using us as trauma porn, you showed that there’s much more to our lives than suffering. I’m still waiting for a QTPOC centered blockbuster that doesn’t include non-stop traumatic scenes and instead normalizes healthy relationships and shows very mundane parts of life.
K - We are all problematic! As someone who is also very vocal and political, I find people assume I don’t take time to do the same work I am asking of them. As of late, I’ve been working to educate myself on trans issues and experiences. What are some things you’ve had to work on over the past year? Biases you may have had to interrogate or wrestle with?
G - I think I’ve had to work on everything. I haven’t stopped working and I work on it everyday. My work doesn’t mean I’m free of the traumatizing and bigoted lessons I’ve been taught growing up in America. Particularly I’ve had to unlearn fatphobia, internalized misogyny, internalized anti-Blackness, prejudices towards non-Black PoC, ableism, classism, internalized queerphobia, etc. I work on them quite often, unpack them, and continue learning on my own time in my own way. I don’t think there’s anything I can really do besides that, and I don’t think I’ll ever reach whatever goal some people seem to think is possible to achieve. There’s no way to unlearn everything while living in a society that thrives and was built on bigotry. You do the work and unlearn as you unfortunately continue to learn the wrong things. Something that’s helped is raising my standards of the media I consume. I point out problems and have discussions with people in my real life. I step on toes quite often these days, but it’s worth it when someone who has a problematic opinion that even I may still struggle with comes back and wants to talk more about it and unpack it with me so they can relay the information to someone else.
What are your three favourite pieces and what inspired them?
K - Who are other artists that inspire you?
G - I have so many other artists that inspire me. Where do I even begin? I’ll just make a list of IG usernames. I could go on and on but I’ll stop with this:
@zachgrearart, @sweetmutuals, @sarahbarnfart, @aorists, @gardenbyeden, @hellomynameiswednesday, @milomars_, @fatvegfemme, @ranafarba, @thelisabelle, @jamesfalciano, @growmija, @mrfishink, @vinksart, @reynanoriega_, @xystugli, @liser.art, @ivannatas
K - Are there any other creative fields you want to explore?
G - I want to get into jewelry making, clothing design, and pottery. I’m a musician and I go back and forth between playing so I would love to pick up a new instrument. I also really want to create a comic or graphic novel!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I honestly have no clue! All I know is that I see myself still doing work that’s beneficial to others. Hopefully, I’ll be in a different city with more financial and emotional stability. I want to find more joy in the work I do, and I want to keep finding ways to improve people’s lives.
"based on a true story"
Featuring a black femme