I first discovered ggggrimes aka Gabriella’s, work when scrolling through my Instagram stories one day in early 2019. One of my favorite artists, Zach Grear, was sharing artists and artworks that he enjoyed on his Insta-story, deeming in his captioned words ‘correct.’ That is when one of ggggrimes works popped up. I too most definitely deemed their work ‘correct.’ I started following them and through Instagram DMs, a friendship developed based on mutual interests, admiration, respect, and recognizing one another as a part of their queer online family.
Throughout the next two years I continued to obsess over their work. Depicting chic queer PoC of all different bodies, individuals filled with confidence, couples in intimate moments that are filled with mutual adoration. Many of the times, with thought bubbles or snippets of conversations accompanying the scene, similar to a comic book panel.
Besides sharing their work, ggggrimes has been open about their personal queer journey in finding love, acceptance, and inner confidence. It was with these thoughts in mind that I emailed my questions for this interview.
Alexandria: I first discovered your work through Instagram, and your work excels in this format. When did you decide to start sharing your work on Instagram and realizing that your work was gathering a following?
ggggrimes: I started sharing my work on Instagram I believe in 2017. I was still in college and was actually in my last year at the time. I slowly started transitioning my feed from personal to art. I went to a few shows, and that got me some followers, but in 2018 once I connected to the same art community I’m a part of now, I started getting a really big following. I attribute so much of my growth to my artist friends who shouted me out and shared my work. Artists like Wednesday Holmes @hellomynameiswednesday, Zach Grear @zachgrear, James Falciano @jamesfalciano, and Iliana @growmija just to name a few of the many.
A: One of the things I love about following you and your work is that you are so open with your personal journey. What has that experience been like for you? What are some unexpected challenges you have faced?
G: It’s been really weird and honestly incredibly depressing at times! Because I have such a large platform, people who really have no right to tell me how to live my life have often felt it necessary to give me their really crappy and bigoted opinions. I have people who believe that because I share some things, it means I share everything so they make assumptions about me that aren’t true at all. I’ve had to relearn the same lessons about boundaries several times in the last three years. Last year was the worst it’s been for me. I gained literally thousands of followers after George Floyd’s death being in the news so much. I was mourning as a Black person, and people like made a spectacle of me and fetishized my pain. I had to unpack so much racism and transphobia at the same time and was constantly getting retraumatized when I came online. When I decided on top surgery, I had a lot of people being transphobic to me, including trans people who didn’t see me as valid because I wasn’t openly talking about my hatred for my body online. Last year, my online life made my offline life suffer immensely, and I’m still trying to pick up the pieces of that time. I have a lot of people grateful that I share my personal journey, and I’m happy it helps people. There have just been so many times when I had to back away and ask myself if it was even worth it to keep talking about things online.
A: The last year was full of changes and difficulties for everyone, but during that you also made some discoveries about yourself! Can you tell me about your transition journey?
G: Yeah! Like I said, I had sooo much work to do unpacking my gender last year. I’ve identified as a high femme for a really long time. I knew people viewed me as a woman, and I didn’t care, because I felt like I could at least be a ‘hot’ woman. It was fun for me to take control of people’s perceptions of me by performing even more than what they expected of me. But then, I had to quarantine with only my (also) trans partner and our cat for months on end. I stopped feeling the need to perform for other people at the same time that my partner showed me unconditional romantic love like I’ve never seen before. They told me I was beautiful or handsome no matter how I was dressed that day. It felt like my partner saw my soul, which I’m realizing they always did. My feelings built up so much over months. I mourned, I cried, I thought about how I felt betrayed by society. I got top surgery, and then I did it all again. And so much of this, I talked about online as it was happening, which is pretty cool. I had so many people waiting for updates about my fantastic year long gender crisis. I recently decided to start testosterone, and I have my ups and downs, but people tell me I look and sound happier, and I feel like I’m going where my body was always meant to go.
I stopped feeling the need to perform for other people at the same time that my partner showed me unconditional romantic love like I’ve never seen before. They told me I was beautiful or handsome no matter how I was dressed that day. It felt like my partner saw my soul, which I’m realizing they always did.
A: I love how your works encapsulate moments and exchanges of time between queer folks. Do the exchanges you depict come from personal experiences?
G: They absolutely do! So much of my older queer romantic work is completely influenced by me being in my first official queer relationship with my now fiancé. I had so many wonderful queer feelings inside of me and I wanted the entire world to know through my artwork. Even a lot of my recent work is inspired by mushy feelings for my partner, like remembering our first kiss, or seeing how beautiful they look in the morning, or remembering how we liked each other as friends first. My artwork is like an open love letter, and a retelling of some of the most beautiful parts of being queer.
My artwork is like an open love letter, and a retelling of some of the most beautiful parts of being queer.
A: What is the process for you when making a full piece completed piece?
G: I usually have no idea what I’m going to paint until I’ve sat down to paint! I open my software, then browse Pinterest or artmodeltips for some references. I usually end up liking a certain pose I see, and then sketching an entire piece around that pose. My sketches are always a pale color on a dark background. Then I do my outline, which can be my most or least favorite part of the process depending on the day. After I complete the outline, I choose a color palette. My favorite website for color palettes is Canva. I’ve used it for all my paintings in the last two months, but I actually normally just choose colors as I go along. Once I have my color palette, I change my background to a nearly white color, then change the outlines to a dark color. I paint skin with all the details and things in its entirety minus shadows. Then I do clothes, and then work on the background, jumping around until I’ve completed all the coloring and details. Then I add shadows and adjust colors and filters! I slap my signature on it, and then save it as a PNG, and email it to myself. Unfortunately, since I’m on Instagram the process doesn’t end there. I then open the PNG file in my software, add borders to make the piece a 4×6, then upload the 8×10 and 4×6 to my website for purchase. After I’ve added them to my shop, I post the painting on Instagram. I completely view this as part of my painting process, especially because I’m incredibly particular about it and it can be time consuming.
A: Do the subjects you depict have characters/names?
G: I think sometimes they have characters, especially because I do small comics with different people in them. The people I paint definitely all have personalities, and I like to believe interests and their own important aesthetics. I never give the people in my painting’s names, although I often assign races, genders, and sexualities to them. If I don’t specify something in a person, I’m painting, it’s because one of my goals is for people to relate to them in specific ways. Sometimes I want to have control over how the audience interprets an image, and sometimes, I just want everyone to draw their own conclusions.
My life is connected to my art, and my art is about my life, so if you don’t care about my life, you don’t have the right to care about my artwork either.
A: Have you thought about making a full book?
G: Yes, I frequently do, and actually before I blew up on ig, I made a small book available for purchase on amazon that had some of my old watercolor and ink work in it. It was called Just For Fun. It was before I went by ggggrimes and my artist handle was MalaikaG instead. Now, I want to make a book with a timeline of my artwork, and talk about my inspiration behind the pieces, or give details about my life at the time. My artwork is shaped by my life and experiences. One time, someone on Instagram told me they didn’t care about my life while I was healing from top surgery, and I blocked them. My life is connected to my art, and my art is about my life, so if you don’t care about my life, you don’t have the right to care about my artwork either. So, I like the idea of really showing how my art and my life tie together.
A: One of the things that inspires me so much about you is that you truly care about queer community and giving back, such as with the “Black Trans Artist Grant” that you sponsor. Can you tell be more about this initiative?
G: Back in December, after a really difficult year of being Black online, I realized I had resources for the first time in my life that I’d never had. I simply just wanted to give back to my community. I got a grant from a company in 2018 that helped me start my website, which is how I’m able to have a constant stream of income if all goes well. 2020 sucked for everyone, but my Black trans siblings were hit so hard, and they’re generally the people I interact with who need the most resources. I saved up some money over a couple months, and was able to make this come true. I ended up choosing Jonathan Soren Davidson @jon.soren He’s a really incredible artist whose work make me feel a whole lot of feelings.
2020 sucked for everyone, but my Black trans siblings were hit so hard, and they’re generally the people I interact with who need the most resources. I saved up some money over a couple months, and was able to make this come true.
A: What advice would you give to a young trans POC artist trying to make it today?
G: Fake it til you make it and raise your prices. Don’t apologize. God, I remember reading this fantastic article by Fran Tirado in 2018, “The Queer Guide to Getting Paid.” This doesn’t just help with money. Money is a result of all of these practices. This guide trained me to have more confidence in myself, appear more confidently to others, and all around be a better businessperson. Learn to say no, learn to say yes when you actually want to do it and they’re showing you’re valuable to them. There are some companies I will never work with again because of bad experiences, and there are tons of people in and outside of companies looking to take advantage of you as an artist. Believe in yourself and say no if your intuition is telling you to!
Also, connect with other artists in your community. We get better as artists by surrounding ourselves with art. We grow as people when we allow ourselves to be a part of a community. And take your time. Develop your skills. There is so much time for you.
Fake it til you make it and raise your prices. Don’t apologize.
A: What are you hopes and plans for 2021?
G: I have so much I want to do. I want to start doing more in person things like street fairs. I also want to start tattooing. Right now, I’m working on a drop in my shop, and thinking about new merch. I want this to be a year I’m really happy with my artwork, and so far, it actually has been that! I can’t wait to see what 2021 brings, especially because of the changes I’ve had in my personal life!
A: What’s your favorite piece from the last couple months and why?
G: My answer at this point is this piece:
It was so fun for me and pushed me outside my comfort zone artistically. I experimented, and the way this came out made me feel like I could KEEP experimenting because it paid off. I love the colors and the simplicity of the background. I feel like this piece is what people wouldn’t necessarily expect from me, but that’s awesome as an artist to understand that because I want to keep pushing others’ expectations of me.