New York-based artist Kelly Dabbah has had quite the career up until this point—and she’s just getting started. The artist was born in Geneva to an Egyptian-born father and an Israeli/Moroccan mom. She studied fashion design at Parsons School of Design and then worked in Anna Sui and Coco Chanel.
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. She has been everywhere, from Times Square billboards to the Gelareh Mizrahi Concept Store to New York City’s Showfields department store.
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. Her exhibit includes a large-scale mirror and an antique chair that she has reupholstered using her digital collage prints. She discusses surrealism, maximalism, and the thin lines between fashion design and contemporary artwork.
Forbes: Why are you so passionate about maximalism?
Kelly DabbahMaximallism is like kitsch. It has an overwhelming and playful feeling. It can be messy and anxious, just like modern society. However, it is balanced with 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 was something I loved as much as art, so I set out 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 are looking for something unique, such as a bold accent. Collaborating with other brands is a great way to expand my vision on products.
What makes a fashion background a good fit for art?
Fashion and art have been two of my passions. A fashion career sounds safer than an artistic career. Parsons taught me how to use digital software when I studied fashion design. It really expanded my horizons of possibilities. My fine art images were incorporated into my 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 with them. I created art installations in Miami Design District as well as New York City. I began exploring other mediums like skateboards and surfboards as well as mirrors, furniture and wallpapers.
Why is kitsch so important to you?
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. You can think of an Elvis Presley old statue that was left in the trunk. Unlike art, kitsch doesn’t require much explanation, it’s self-explanatory. It’s fun to play with. Artists are expected to create objects with a message. I enjoy the fact kitsch is that 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 gained a lot of knowledge. Hand painting denim Anna Sui created was the most fascinating thing I did. I was working on leather jackets to sell on my Instagram, so I felt confident and excited enough to accept the assignment.
Could you please tell us more about your Daddy’s Issues show at SCOPE Art Show Miami?
As a mini-art installation, I will be displaying a large 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 between Miami Beach and downtown Miami from December 1, 3, during Art Basel Miami Beach.
Are you a surrealist? What artists are you a fan of?
I’m a huge fan of surrealists. Right now I’m reading about dream interpretations by Sigmund Fréud and the link between conscious and 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. The power of dreams may be a key to our consciousness. Francis Bacon is my favorite. Of course, Salvador Dali and Man Ray are my favorites, Rene Magritte, Frida Kahlo is also a big inspiration to me.
Tell us about your collaboration with Siam Circle, and the importance to upcycle 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. I’ve been following them since they started and I love their work. Mariuka was an Instagram friend of mine. I had many fabrics left over from my art installations that were 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. It is becoming more popular. Fast fashion isn’t sustainable, and we know it. You can give clothes a second existence if you’re creative. This is where creativity lies.