New York-based artist Kelly Dabbah has had quite the career up until this point—and she’s just getting started. Born in Geneva to an Egyptian mother and an Israeli-Moroccan father, the artist studied fashion design at Parsons School of Design before going on to work for Coco Chanel and Anna Sui.
Now, she devotes her time to making art and design objects—from custom-made mirrors to collages, aristocratic-esque armchairs, maximalist wallpaper patterns, to sculptures, skateboards, and collages. As part of her own art and design practice, she has a wide breadth of fashion collaborations behind her—with brands like Moleskin, Hampton Surf Company, YellowPop, and Bala—and next up, is collaborating with Malibu-based swimwear brand Cami and Jax, debuting in March.
Dabbah’s work ranges from custom-made coats, to printmaking, painting and even mirrors, and her work is collected by Grammy Award-winning artists like Anderson .Paak, ThunderCat, and MixedByAli. Her work has been seen everywhere, including a billboard in Times Square, the Gelareh Mizrahi Concept Store, the Showfields department shop in New York City, as well as numerous other locations.
Next up, Dabbah is opening her “Daddy’s Issues” exhibition at SCOPE Art Show in Miami Beach 2022 from November 29 to December 4, with Saphira & Ventura Gallery. A large-scale mirror and an old chair will be on display, reupholstered with digital collage prints. She discusses surrealism and maximalism as well as the thin line between contemporary art and fashion design.
Forbes: Why are you so passionate about maximalism?
Kelly DabbahMaximalalism is a playful and overwhelming feeling, much like kitsch. Although it can sometimes be chaotic and anxious like modern-day society it is also full of joy, colors and life. It’s like the Yin and Yang of how I see my life—messy, anxious at times, overwhelming as well as joyful, full of emotions, light and fun. It’s finding calm in the mess and embracing the amount of information we absorb every day, while taking it all with a grain of salt. It’s like finding peace during chaos.
Why do you love fashion collaborations as both an artist, and designer?
Fashion and art are both my passions, so I was determined to combine them. Fashion collaborations can be very exciting because they allow you to combine the ideas of two minds and create something truly unique and limited. Collaborations with artists are a way for fashion brands to create unique capsule collections. They want something bold and different. Collaborating with other brands is a great way to expand my vision on products.
What does it take to make a fashion background work well for art?
Art and fashion have always been a passion of mine. I believe a career in fashion is safer than an arts career. Parsons taught me how to use digital software when I studied fashion design. It really expanded my horizons of possibilities. I began incorporating fine art images into digital collages. I then started printing prints on silk and satin fabrics. I began to print so many prints that I could cover my living room in them and create an immersive space full of them. I began creating art installations in Miami Design District, and later in New York City. After that I began exploring other mediums like skateboards and surfboards as well as mirrors, furniture and wallpapers.
What is it that you love so much about kitsch?
It has a funny and ironic aspect that I love and enjoy. I love the aesthetic—it’s colorful, bold and it has this melancholia about it, like an abandoned castle, a strip club, gas station, or a hotel room in Las Vegas. Imagine an old Elvis Presley statue in a car trunk. Unlike art, kitsch doesn’t require much explanation, it’s self-explanatory. I enjoy playing with it. People expect you to create art with a message. I love the fact that kitsch itself is the message.
What was it like working at Anna Sui’s fashion house, what did you learn?
As a designer, working for Anna Sui was an exciting experience. I was responsible for creating fashion figures and flats and styling models. I learned so much. My most memorable project for Anna Sui was hand-painting the denim she made for her denim collection. I was working on leather jackets to sell on my Instagram, so I was happy and confident enough about the job.
Could you please tell us more about your Daddy’s Issues show at SCOPE Art Show Miami?
As an art installation, I am showing a mirror and a chair. For me, shifting from “daddy issues” to “daddy’s issues” acknowledges that some limitations we carry with us do not belong to us. It’s about the relationship between our heart and mind. It’s about what someone is supposed to do versus what the heart wants. Daddy’s Issues was also selected by Art Innovation Gallery to be exhibited digitally as an NFT on the largest large mobile platform in Miami. The boat will travel from Miami Beach towards downtown Miami during Art Basel Miami Beach.
Is surrealism something you are a fan? If so, which artists are you a fan of surrealism?
I am a big surrealist fan. I am currently reading about dream interpretations by Sigmund Fréud and the link between the conscious mind and the unconscious. When I create, I don’t know how the final piece is going to look like. I am unconsciously guided by my creativity, inspired by past visions, images, dreams, and feelings, like a collage—it’s almost like a puzzle of imagery. These powerful dreams could be the key to our consciousness.
Tell us about your collaboration with Siam Circle, and the importance to upcycling fabrics.
Siam Circle is a brand that creates upcycled pieces from original Levi’s jeans and creates wonderful patchwork. It’s so avant-garde and creative. They have been my favorite company since the beginning. Mariuka was an Instagram friend of mine. I had many fabrics left over from my art installations that I didn’t use, and they were just sitting in my suitcases. We decided to reuse the fabrics and make upcycled pieces. It was great to see my prints again in Soho.
The future is upcycling fabrics. This trend is growing in popularity. Fast fashion isn’t sustainable, and we know it. You can give clothes a second existence if you’re creative. Creativity is found in finding new solutions to problems.