#GirlCrush: KELLY GILLERAN
This is Kelly. She is the textile designer responsible for the 'Banano' print. Yes, that girl. That crazy cool girl. For over a year we've been crushing hard on her work and we were so happy that we got the chance to ask her some rad-ass bad-ass questions about her inspos and life as an artist. Here is a juicy in-depth interview - get to the part where we talk about sexism surrounding pin-up style. Her answers are top-notch.
How did you get into graphic/print design & illustration? How long have you been doing it for? Are you working full-time in this field?
I’ve always been artistically inclined, and even as a kid I always foresaw myself in some sort of creative field. It wasn’t until college that I decided I wanted to be primarily a painter/illustrator. I used to do really large scale figurative narrative works, but after college I wanted to switch to a genre that had more mass-appeal and a quicker turnaround. It was important to me to make my artwork accessible to fans on who couldn’t afford a giant painting, but could maybe afford a t-shirt, sticker (or some undies!) So I started painting food, and later started learning how to digitally make swatches/patterns out of my paintings in 2013. Currently, I’ve been lucky enough to switch to a part-time day job where I work as a substitute teacher.
Describe yourself in a sentence. (I always hate this question, so now it’s your turn! Haha.)
Much like my artwork, I am loud, vibrant, playful and sometimes a bit tacky.
Who/what are your biggest influences?
I’m hugely influenced by mid-century aesthetic, particularly advertising illustrators, most of who are nameless because their work appeared in magazine ads rather than galleries. I’m also a huge fan of pin-up artists, particularly Alberto Vargas. My favorite artist is John Berkey, who did some amazing space art. I also admire Lisa Frank, not necessarily her artwork, but her career and business savvy is really inspiring.
What work do you most enjoying doing?
Definitely the painting portion of my work is my favorite part. A lot of what I do runs the board of editing, uploading, marketing, etc., and I wish I could spend more time on the art creation aspect of things. Painting is when I’m at my happiest.
What has been your favourite project/print to work on so far?
Right now, I really really love doing big pattern murals when I get the opportunity. I used to paint really big, and now I usually work fairly small, so it’s fun to be able to turn a digital pattern into something huge that’s bigger than me. I’m very process-oriented, so the puzzle of figuring out how to break an image down to be able to paint it with stencils and detailing is very fun for me.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“Do what you love and think is important, and you’ll find people that think it’s important too.”
What’s spinnin’ on your Spotify?
My boyfriend is a musician/dj, and I’m currently squatting at his house while my apartment is being renovated. Mostly I listen to him making dope music under the name DVS NME, or the electro and post punk affiliated mixes he makes under Dark Science Electro.
We’ve noticed your love for pin-up and wanted to pick your brain about this topic. We use vintage pin-up magazine covers for our underwear packaging and have had a few customers remark on the ‘sexism’ behind pin-up styles. Some of the customers and women we’ve spoken to don’t totally agree with how women were portrayed in Cheesecake/Calendar Girl images. What are your thoughts?
I often lament that I was born in the wrong era, and that I missed the period where I could’ve had my dream job of being an advertising illustrator in the 50’s & 60’s… Unfortunately the reality is that even if I were an artist during that time, I never would’ve had that opportunity because I am a female. To this day, the vast majority of famous/successful artists are men. To this day, most businesses are owned by men. If anything, I think a female artist/business owner painting pin-ups is a means of reclaiming a field that has historically been dominated by men.
As a women, nothing I do encites harm towards other women. As a feminist, I am concerned with issues of equality rather than the fact that we have boobs and butts and that I choose to paint them because they’re beautiful. As an artist, I am concerned with aesthetics and I refuse to have my work, narrative, or intentions dictated by the opinions of others.
What does pin-up style represent to you and the women in the images?
Along with pin-ups and burlesque I’m also a huge fan of gender-bending and drag. I know most people don’t look at my work and wonder who these girls are, but I often think about who they would be and how much personality I can get across when I eliminate someone’s face. I’m don’t have the courage or personality type to perform center stage, so my artwork is my attempt at burlesque/drag. It’s a means of exploring identity while pretending to be someone else.
I believe gender is merely a performance, and performance is art. You don’t get to chose your sex, but you get to chose your gender. The only thing you’re given in life is your body, so I believe you should be able to use it and express yourself how ever you see fit. I don’t get to choose certain things about myself, but I do get to choose my winged eyeliner and red lips, I get to chose my feminine aesthetics, and I think that’s empowering. Being ultra-feminine or sexy is merely prerogative.
Could you tell us a little about the inspiration behind your ‘fruit ladies’ and your collection of pin-up style artwork?
Naturally the first concepts were the cherry and peach because I really wanted to play with the fact that they looked like giant cartoon butts standing on top of tiny little legs, which made me laugh. With the fruit girls I actively tried to pair the fruits with legs that would correspond to their “body” as to what their personality would be, confident, coy, etc.
One of the very first pin-up paintings I made, “Gentlemen’s Club” was based off an older coworker remarking “I look at a Ham Sandwich the way I used to look at women” The initial idea of painting food pin-ups was to directly compare the objectification of women to the objectification of food, in a way that was both humorous and strangely uncomfortable. I don’t think art always has to be serious, if it elicits a reaction it’s contributing something to the discussion. My work is meant to be humorous above all else; I don’t take my work too seriously and I would hope no one else does either.
You have a lot of foodie prints which we are obsessed with. So I gotta ask - what’s your favourite food?!
Hands down, cheeseburgers. All day, everyday if I could.
With technology changing ever so quickly these days, do you notice any major changes or new difficulties that you face being a graphic designer/illustrator?
I think it’s a bit of a double-edged sword for me. On one hand, advancements in printing technology have enabled an artist like me, who prefers to work in traditional media, to find a niche. I can paint a picture and then scan the image and digitally cut in out and convert in into different patterns, and then it can be printed on just about anything. It used to be that fabric designers were limited to a fixed color-count in order to cut down on printing costs, and now we have a full spectrum. With the internet, an artist like me can reach a huge audience without having to travel or leave my city.
On the other hand, because these new printing technologies and online services are so readily available, a lot of companies have switched to “print-on-demand” services like the companies I sell through. While these companies are great because independent artists are able to be part of the marketplace, it means that artists have become solely responsible for uploading, editing, marketing, tagging, and all these little steps that ultimately take me away from the actual art-making end of things. You spend hours on end on the computer, and you’re typically rewarded with 8%-10% of the profit if someone likes your work. It used to be that companies producing product had to license your artwork, pay upfront, and offer royalty rates for a big run of product. Now, most companies just put forth platforms paired with technology where they have less risk involved, but artists spend hours and hours working hard just to get noticed. Mostly you just keep working, hope to find good people, and cross your fingers that your artwork isn’t stolen and illegally sold. I try to keep grinding and hope that someday I can be an artist full-time!
Who is your all-time favourite kickass female icon?
Right now it’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I think all the recent horrific nonsense with the American Supreme Court, you’ve got to look at the ground-breakers that are holding down the fort. There’s this cultural fallacy for women that “you can have it all,” which typically means you can have a career and a family. While I think that goal is unrealistic and seemingly impossible to achieve right now, she’s the living embodiment of that sentiment. She’s spent her life in male-dominated fields and she’s always been a champion for the rights of women. She should definitely be retired by now, but she’s got a real sense of duty and obligation so she can’t. I’d happily donate a healthy year of my life to that woman if it keeps her kickin’!
I’m sure you have a superpower. What is it?
I was raised by a super creative mother and watched a lot of Martha Stewart when I was growing up. Outside of the painting and illustrating I’m also super crafty; give me a hot glue gun, a sewing machine and some spray paint and I can figure out how to make just about anything!
And remember to get yourself a pair of happy Banano panties.