This year. This year. That’s all we can really say, right? What a mess it’s been. But we hope that you’re finding some time for happiness in your life. It doesn’t matter if you’re walking the dog, playing dress up with your children, or reading comic books. Finding those little moments of happiness today are so especially important. Your mental health is vital in today’s world. For a lot of us, those happy moments come from music. Hip-hop, rock and roll, pop, jazz, country, it doesn’t matter the genre. Music has helped the world through some of the most turbulent times in human history. And the subject of our piece today did that and more with his music.
Welcome back to Black Hole and our fourth installment of our Lift Off series. If you’re new to this, Lift Off is a series where we highlight up and coming artists. They are paid for an original commission, then come on our site and we break down the piece and them as an artist.
Today, we have the special privilege of welcoming Gabby Shepherd to the site. A Black and Hispanic artist, Gabby uses acrylic paints as her main tool. She’s self-taught and has been painting her entire life, using it as an outlet and enjoying the freedom that creating brings. Her art stuck out to us mainly because of the style, but also because of the messages behind the art. There’s a cultural awareness and love of her people that is clear in her art. Gabby did a beautiful piece of George Floyd, who was murdered by Minneapolis Police just a few months ago. The murder sparked protests across the country and forced America to discuss the brutal racism that’s still prevalent in America. In Gabby’s piece there were also other names of the victims of police brutality and white supremacy in this country. Sandra Bland. Oscar Grant. Tamir Rice. Philando Castile. Breonna Taylor. Names that won’t be forgotten. Their light took too soon from this world.
All of this is purposeful for Gabby. Art is cathartic for her, yes. But she also paints to show the world what she stands for, what she believes. And to our delight, Gabby did a piece for Lift Off of someone who represents those values through and through. The late great hip-hop artist, Nipsey Hussle.
Nipsey is a man who needs no introduction. A West Coast rapper that has great songs and has collaborated with some of the best hip-hop has to offer. But Nipsey’s influence goes far past music. He was a man of the people. Known is his neighborhood for how much he gave back and how much he cared about educating people, especially the youth. Nipsey knew the influence he had on people, and he not only used that influence socially but financially as well. He did this all while being “low-key” too. Never garnering the love from mainstream circles or white fans of hip-hop, who didn’t celebrate him until his death. But he didn’t need that. He knew his purpose was bigger than number one singles and Sprite commercials. When he was tragically murdered outside of his own clothing store, the community felt like a family member had died.
Nipsey’s complexity and beauty is illustrated wonderfully by Gabby. The bottom half showing that deep blue, a color commonly associated with Nipsey because of his affiliation with the Crips gang in South LA. But just how Nipsey became more than a gang member, this painting becomes more as you go up. Nipsey’s classic hair style and beard are illustrated extremely well. There’s a lot of texture in the painting, Nipsey feels alive.
But the thing that will instantly catch your eye is the color. There are streaks of color in every direction and they even mix in with Nipsey’s face. But the true beauty here in this piece are the hints of blue and purple throughout. Most noticeably on his lips. But they also appear in his braids and the side of his face. Maybe this was intentional by Gabby. But we see the purple representing the evolution of Nipsey. He became more than a gang member, more than a rapper. But not once did he ever forget where he came from. Not once did he look down on his people, no matter how much fame and money he received. Maybe the color represents the money and the fame. And the blue, the purple, the grounded nature of who he was remaining intact. The colors are lighter on the outside of his face. But once they reach him, they are darker, more solid. Stand for what you believe in and never let people deter you from your path. That’s Nipsey Hussle.
But, enjoy the piece and read Gabby’s beautiful thoughts on her art and the piece.
“I've been painting since I was a little kid. It's always made me happy. I never took lessons, I never was taught, I just did it. It's always been my outlet, my way of letting everything else around me go, and just enjoying the freedom to be able to actualize the ideas in my head.
I really enjoy highlighting African Americans in my work, especially those who have had a profound influence in my life. Other than being a global icon, Nipsey advocated for what he believed in, which paralleled my own personal views, and did so well before his fame. He stood true to himself, his partner, his family, and his community.
Having these aspects of black culture, and those who lead it, in my art is one of the most important aspects of my passion. Growing up Black and Hispanic in a community that was largely white, I grew up ashamed of my race, of my blackness, and never had anyone I looked up to that made me feel powerful, made me feel capable. The people I choose to paint are those things for me. As much as my art is a means of catharsis, an escape from reality, it's also a way that makes me feel grounded in the reality I live in. Art is an expression, and I use mine to express what I stand for. My George Floyd piece was an emotionally challenging on to do, but one that ultimately touched dozens of people, and even ended up in a virtual museum to commemorate George Floyd.
My painting of Nipsey has SO much color, so much texture. I did this intentionally, but also let my hand move as it wished. To confine who Nipsey was to some methodical, two-dimensional piece would have been a disservice. Instead, I aimed to capture the multitude of characteristics that made Nipsey who he was, as well as the never-ending list of ways he impacted so many lives.
Making this piece was one of the most freeing experiences I have had as an artist. There was no pressure for perfection, I just expressed how I felt into my paint strokes.
It was my first time painting in this style, so at first, I was petrified I would do a disservice to the piece I was trying to make. In the end, I'm beyond happy I pushed through that hesitation and doubtfulness, and definitely used the inspiration and passion I had for the intention of the piece to persevere.
Aside from my small art business, my main career goal in life is to be an attorney. Seeing the injustices, the cruelness, the corruption of our current political system and the disproportionate effect it has on POC's deepens the pit in my stomach every day. To me, if I'm in the position to possess the power to have influence over someone's life, to change someone's life, even if it's just one person, there is no excuse not to. My aspirations don't stem from a place of monetary desire, but rather a relentless hunger to speak out, defend, and use my voice for those who have been silenced.”
We’d like to thank Gabby again for sharing this piece with us. And for giving us insight into who she is as a person and as an artist.
You can find Gabby on Twitter and Instagram. @gabbymriee on Twitter and @gabbyshepherdartist on Instagram.
We’d also like to take this time to mention again that if you do not care about social justice and marginalized creators this will never be the place or platform for you. Too often, artists like Gabby who want to create and make art are turned away from their passion because the world treats them less than human. And here, at Black Hole, we will always make creators especially from different backgrounds feel welcomed, empowered, and valued.
We urge you to continue to learn about the injustices plaguing this world, engage in local politics in your city, and acknowledge your own privilege in life. Breaking barriers and biases will never be an easy task, but BIPOC creators shouldn’t feel like the weight of the world is on their shoulders 24/7. Uplift them and support them because they should be, not out of guilt or social gain.
Join us next time on Lift Off where we’ll feature another artist whose creativity knows no limits.