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Artist Spotlight: Kayla Shelton

Meet Lead Artist Kayla Shelton

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Kayla Shelton is a mixed media visual artist based in Los Angeles, California. Through her work she aims to spark meaningful discourse around the stereotypes that surround black femininity and beauty within our culture. Her paintings, drawings, and collages contain themes of identity, womanhood, and representation as well as notes of religious and sacred iconography.

Where are you from? How did your neighborhood shape your identity?

Originally, I’m from Detroit, MI, but I moved to LA when I was around 14. It was right before high school and my 14th birthday. First I lived downtown, then Westchester and later Leimert Park.

Growing up in Detroit as a kid it was pretty much a Chocolate City. All my teachers were Black. All the authority figures in my life were Black. It provided me with this empowering view of myself. I didn’t necessarily know that we were considered to be other.

That helped shape my work. I never really went through a space of time in my work where I felt like I needed to create art that was speaking to anyone other than Black people. I’ve always painted Black people. I know them most. That is who I am most concerned with taking in my work.

When I got to school, I went to college in San Francisco, that was the first time I realized that Black Art, even in a contemporary space, is considered to be other. In these spaces you’re asked to justify why you are painting only one subject matter. I was asked, why are you painting for only one group to take in?

That was one of my biggest challenges in school because I didn’t know how to necessarily answer that question because I came from that environment. That’s the art that I was surrounded by and the creatives I was surrounded by. The people that inspired me were all Black People. I didn’t feel like I had an answer to that other than why not.

Leaving school and coming back to Leimert and seeing the gaze that is now on the community here and the interest from the outside world really solidified what I felt and already knew. As Black people we don’t have to justify our work of us. We don’t have to adjust it in any way that would make it more palatable for white people because they’re looking anyway. They want to take part in it anyway.

All these people are looking to Black Artists and Black Communities to see what we come up with creatively because that’s our strength. That’s one of the most important exports from our communities is the art that comes from it, the ideas that come from it and the culture.

What are some of your favorite LA Landmarks?

I have a few.

Visually, the Vision Theater is one of my favorite things to look at.

I don’t know whether it’s still open, but Angel’s Flight downtown. I thought that was really cool when I first got here. It’s an old trolley right across from Grand Central Market that used to go up to this park that was sitting on a hill.

I really like the Art Deco style of the buildings in the Leimert / Crenshaw area. The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall, and its Art Deco construction is beautiful. Even the architecture of the Liquor Bank on Crenshaw and Stocker is nice to look at. Art Deco architecture and design is an art form that I really appreciated and enjoyed when I started taking art seriously.

What mediums do you work with and how would you describe your work?

I’m trained in painting, oil painting. Right now, I’ve been using acrylic paint.I recently got into digital illustrations, prints, and wheat pasting as street art form. I also do digital collages a lot. I do a lot of collage work where I find old pen types of really old photographs and collage them with patterns or paintings that I’ve made. I also use gold leafing. I collage as a way to archive the past.

How would I describe my work? I consider myself to be an archivist of sorts. In a lot of the work I create there is a connection to the past. There’s usually a historical tie there especially with my collage work.

In my paintings, I’m mostly focused on femininity and depicting the Black Woman and the beauty of the Black woman in a way that is free. Free from all of the societal things that we are told that we should be or should limit ourselves to.

What words of wisdom do you have for younger emerging artists?

I would say most importantly, do not compare. Art is a super personal, intimate process and journey. When you go to school for things there is a timeline that is placed on you. Academically and then once you graduate from school its natural for you to look at your peers and say, what are they doing? What level of success have they experienced? What has their art grown into?

Remember, after your art grows, you develop a style and then you find your voice. School teaches you the skill. It teaches you how to blend, how to paint, and how to use different mediums. It doesn’t give you your voice. That’s the process you have to find through your experiences. There’s no way for it to match up to anyone else’s journey. Don’t compare. Focus on taking in as much as you can through your experiences and put that into your work.

Kayla Shelton is currently exhibiting work in Magician: The Black Body and Portraiture at Fellows of Contemporary Art. Keep up with her on Instagram @_kaylachelsea.

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