Beyond The Streets Interview with Myla of DABSMYLA

Author: Diandra Barsalou / Photos: Brent Broza & Kyle Walling
08.25 / Art

Beyond the Streets, curated by Roger Gastman, is an exhibit dubbed by some as the definitive “arrival” of graffiti and street art. “It doesn’t dwell on history, it respects the past and showcases the past while keeping the work fresh with what these artists are up to today,” Gastman said. On display are pieces and photographs of pieces that would once have been considered vandalism, spanning from the birth of graffiti in New York City and subsequent documentation to immersive experiences and original studio work from artists like Banksy, DABSMYLA, Ladypink, Swoon and Maripol. The hallmark of Beyond the Streets (BTS) is that not a single piece was stolen off the streets or entered into the exhibit without consent. The goal behind BTS is to educate through experience by retrospectively showing the grit, heart, and guts of a subculture that is often commercialized and tapped for cultural relevance. BTS is an exploration of what’s happening now in the world of street art.

We caught up with the Australian-born Myla, one half of the DABSMYLA duo known for their colorful illustrations and whimsical characters painted on street murals and collaborations with brands like Vans, Hello Kitty, and Modernica to name a few.

Tell us about DABSMYLA and how you came to be.

We’re from Melbourne, Australia. We met when we were at art school in 2004, and started working together the following year. It wasn’t for maybe a year or so into our collaboration that we decided we would just solely be collaborators and wouldn’t do anything apart from that. We liked the work that we were making together, and the work we were making separately. We felt like we could pick up and leave off easily from what each of us were doing. It was cool because my husband Darren (DABS) had been painting graffiti for 21 years and then taught me how to spray paint. When he got to art school, he had little brushwork experience whereas I had been painting since I was a teenager. I started painting graffiti with him and his friends and we starting painting things in our studio together, so it was a natural progression of how the whole collaboration began.

It sounds like a natural exchange of skills and nurturing that helped each of you grow. What is it like to work and live and love with the same person and how does it affect you as an individual and as a woman?

I suppose that it’s something that is constantly on my mind because it’s my life. I would say when we both moved here, we had some friends, but it was just the two of us, which I feel brought our relationship closer and stronger than it was before. I think from that we became very attached to each other and over the last few years, we’ve been deciding what each of us is really like. It’s in really small ways, but they’re important things that define what makes up each of us individually. I think in moving to a country that is completely new to two people, you become like 'oh my god we’re here in this foreign country together' and then about 3-4 years ago we started to feel like 'ok this is our home and this is where we really live.' From that, we were able to feel independent within ourselves, within our relationship, more than when we first moved here. So to answer the question about how does it feel to be a female in this, I’ve been in this collaborative relationship working as an artist for so long now, almost 13 years. It's hard to remember what it feels like to completely make something by myself. As a female, Darren never treats me like I’m any different, he is very respectful of everything, I don’t feel like there is ever a divide because he’s male and I’m female. I never feel singled out as a female. Maybe it's because it’s not something I’m focused on so I’m not putting that energy out there in the world.

Tell us about the whimsical and quirky characters you’re so famous for, where do they come from?

They just kind of come from different things, some of them have existed for a long time and have morphed into what they are now. There’s a little cloud character we’ve been painting the last couple of years but he was someone who existed from like, 2009, so it’s funny that some (characters) come back into circulation and there are some that we develop for certain situations. At the moment we’re working on a body of work and the characters we’ve developed for that are very specific. A lot of times Darren draws the characters, even though it's both of us coming up with the reason they’re there, I think a lot of the time he makes them for me. It’s really sweet. He’ll draw something, and in his mind, he’s creating it because he knows I will love it.

Tell us about the piece that you’ve created, it’s an impressive installation, and your work is extended with a 3D component.

Whenever we’ve done exhibitions in the past, we’ve always done an immersive installation element. At the beginning when we started out and had no budget, all we had was paint so we would just paint the gallery walls and then it evolved into including 3D pieces. It wasn’t until probably about three years ago we had a really cool exhibition that we worked on with Roger. We teamed up with Modernica to work on so many different 3D elements in the installation and a lot of really fun things that you had to find yourself as a part of the experience. For this piece that we made for BTS, we worked with our friend Amelia, a floral designer who has a really cool sense of how to do flower arrangements. We had this idea where we could do an installation that included wooden cutouts and floral walls that we could add painted pieces to. It kind of evolved into just a floral wall around our paintings. Amelia loved the idea right away and came to our studio to do a mockup and then Darren and I tweaked it and painted on some of the silk flowers, we found banana leaves, and it became a collaboration. It’s really fun because we love working collaboratively with each other and with other people because its something that comes naturally. Working on this with Amelia was such a dream, and it’s inspired collaborations with other friends as well.

Visually your paintings feel immersive. There’s so much play going on inside them so to see it extended like that is really cool. From where do you take your personal inspiration?

I love reading about and finding other artists that I’ve never heard of before, I take inspiration from friends of ours that are making cool stuff and who are pushing the limitations of what they thought was possible. I love going to art museums and art shows, and I really love music. There’s so much visually and so many creative things you can draw from record covers. I think being an artist and living an artistic life and being a part of that is the biggest inspiration of all. The people around us are always making amazing things and sharing and growing. We get to go to music shows and hear that, or watch something and feel that,  it’s kind of everything. The content is all about our lives; even if it’s not a complete carbon copy, it’s our re-imagination of what it would be through the filter of how we draw. It’s everything we love and also what I love individually as a person who’s been alive for 38 years. It’s everything we love going into our paintings.

What is your dream collaboration or a big goal that you’re currently road mapping?

At the moment we’re working on a show that’s the most amount of paintings we’ve ever made. So what we’re currently working on is our dream show because we ‘ve been working on it for almost two years now and we’re almost there, we’re about to have our solo show, and it’s really close.

What do you do for yourself and for a self-care moment?

There are many things I do. I go to yoga every second day, and I cook all the time. I make pretty much all the food that we eat. We’re vegetarian, so I make sure everything is super healthy, which also saves us more time in the end. I always sleep for seven hours at a time. Consistently I know if I’ve rested enough every night I’m going to be so much better the next day and I’ll get so much more done if I sleep exactly 7 hours. It doesn’t matter what time we go to sleep the alarm is always set for seven hours later. And yoga is awesome.

What does being a MISSBISH mean to you?

I think it’s awesome to be a strong confident woman because I don’t know what the world would be without them. We need to inspire girls as they’re coming into their own. When I look back on when I was younger and figuring out was I was doing in my my life, and who I was, I would look up to women and girls who were older than me for inspiration. I feel like that’s one thing in this world that’s amazing, that you can actually be an inspiration to someone else. There are young girls who say I’m an inspiration to them and that’s one of the craziest compliments I could ever receive. I think to inspire the next generation like the many generations before me is one of the most important things about being a strong independent woman. In art, there aren’t as many women, but you’re attracted to those ones that do exist, and if they’re doing cool things and living a positive life, it’s something to gravitate towards.

Who is your main BISH?
I was thinking about this the other day, about the women in my life. As soon as I met them, I couldn’t shake them from my mind. There are so many! Amanda Bessette is one of them; she’s been a huge inspiration in my life, she’s so smart, fashionable and has taught me a lot about fashion. I have a really good friend I’ve known since I was 14, her name is Kelly, and she’s been a huge inspiration to me, just as a friend and companion. If I ever have troubles, she just knows the right thing to say. Then there are musicians I love that when I see them play I just absolutely love it. In terms of female artists, Maya Hayuk is a huge inspiration, and the conversations I’ve had with her have been very inspirational.

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