As a full-time artist and gallery owner, Mab Graves is just a bit busy. A self-taught pop-surrealist, Graves curates Monster Gallery (1702 English Ave.), a Fountain Square destination near State and English. She and her husband, photographer Larry Endicott, bought the building several years ago and renovated the space to accommodate a gallery and the loft studio where they live. Both work as full-time artists, which is, by Graves' own admission, 30 percent painting and 70 percent business. "There was a big learning curve as an artist when I realized I'm a small business," she says.
Graves describes herself as "self-taught all the way" and notes that while she enjoys the professional aspects of being a gallerist who is enmeshed in the art world, she also "enjoys losing herself in paint for 13-plus hours [a day]."
- Jenn Kriskunas
"As much as I love the piece I was just working on," Graves' says as though addressing several in-progress works, "now I love you."
Graves' latest show is Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass, inspired by Lewis Carroll's well-known children's books. The opening reception will take place Friday (Sept. 5) at Monster Gallery from 6 to 10 p.m. The show is comprised of nearly 50 pieces, including illustrations, sculptural art, movable art and paintings, and it could be a far bigger show.
"When I started exploring the theme," Graves says, "I felt like I needed three years to paint the story. I feel like I've barely scratched the surface."
As one would guess, the painter has put hundreds of hours into her work, but is also making the gallery space and show welcoming for "children of all ages." Too often people worry if they can bring children to an art show, Graves says. Some of the pieces will be hung close to the ground so young ones can interact with them, including works with little doors that open to reveal mini paintings. "Hopefully it will be fun since kids can relate to Alice in Wonderland," Graves says.
- Jenn Kriskunas
Graves has created almost 50 pieces for the exhibit, which opens Friday at Monster Gallery.
The Alice in Wonderland show has been in the planning stages for about three years, but "kept getting derailed by offers from really amazing galleries to travel and do big shows," Graves says. Though she has her shows planned out years in advance, she wanted Alice "to be a show I gave this city."
A lifelong fairytale enthusiast, Graves has always loved Alice in Wonderland and Grimms' Fairy Tales, recalling with a laugh that she and her sisters would put on plays for their parents even before Graves could read. "My older sister, who could read, would whisper my lines to me," she says. Her favorite stories include Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and George MacDonald's The Light Princess, all of which she developed a deeper appreciation for as an adult.
"Fairy tales are a universal language," Graves says. "I love them and I love painting from literary inspiration. Everyone has a different experience when they read a book -- they're in a different place, time in their life, a different emotional state. Whether they're young or old or escaping, they all have an emotional connection to fairy tales and stories. I love getting to share that with people and put images to a story we all know. I love getting to see people's reactions."
When Graves first started working on the paintings for her Alice series, she stayed up for 27 hours straight working on Alice, Serpent!, the point in the Wonderland story where Alice's ingestion of mushrooms has caused her neck to grow long like a snake. She is harangued by a pigeon who is sure her eggs are about to be eaten, but is ushered away by Alice's indignation and her return to a more familiar size. Of the hours she spent on the painting, Graves says, "That's just how inspired and excited I was to get the show started."
- Jenn Kriskunas
Graves lives and works in her combination studio and home above Monster Gallery in Fountain Square.
Graves continues to work hard on her exhibit, the pieces of which she began painting last January. In addition to the show taking years to come to fruition, it's Graves' first foray into working with oil paint. She normally works in gouache and acrylic but "really wanted to push the envelope of my craft with this show and have more depth in what I could achieve." In addition to painting with an entirely new medium, Graves had to learn how to work on several pieces at once, rather than leaning in to one piece at a time until it was completed. The unforgiving nature of oil paint meant that Graves had two or three hours to work with a piece before it dried and she would be forced to work on something else.
"It's really hard to learn to work on five or six pieces at a time. I get really emotionally involved in a piece. It's exhilarating and frustrating all at the same time. As much as I love the piece I was just working on," she says as though addressing several in-progress works, "now I love you."
Many of Graves' art shows have taken place outside Indianapolis, but that still leaves time for a few shows at year at Monster Gallery. Emphasizing quality over quantity, Graves explains that they don't host any "filler" shows, which allows Graves the hours in front of the canvas that she craves. "It takes about a month to do a show, including press releases and interviews and getting everything organized. I would love to show more but there's no way to balance it," she says. "Running a gallery is full-time work."
- Jenn Kriskunas
Graves' Through the Looking Glass show includes several sculptural pieces.
Sneak a peek at Mab Graves' work online, whether you visit her website, Instagram feed, Facebook page, or Etsy store. A closing reception for her Alice in Wonderland show will take place Sept. 26 from 7 to 9 p.m., also at Monster Gallery.
Check out more shots from photographer Jenn Kriscunas' visit to Monster Gallery on Sky Blue Window's Facebook page.