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An Interview with Abby Daleki

Updated: Oct 27, 2021

Abby Daleki is an artist whose work brilliantly expresses an experience through color, line, and word. On canvas, paper, and beyond the 2-dimensional framework into more sculptural work, Daleki’s color-scapes are a true expression of process and life. Her painting work has a flow that in some ways feels totally wild but as the viewer digs deeper, each work reveals a level of control that adds to the work immensely. Her line work is simple, but again the controlled chaos of the simple image reveals something deeper, a connection between the viewer and the varying levels of chaos in each drawing. Her poetry work is in line with the rest of it, simple, to the point, but deep, sometimes heavy, and extremely emotional. At a glance, Daleki’s work may not be the most exciting but once it pulls you in, there’s a lot to be revealed.

Daleki is more than just an artist, she’s also sought to promote her local art scene by putting on guerilla art events in areas that don’t typically host such things. Artists who give back and build community are favorites here at Plebeian, so we were excited to get to chat with Daleki on all that her art encompasses and all that she is doing for her art community. It’s a great read with a lot of insight to what’s shaped her into the artist that she is today and how her work has developed. Enjoy!

1. So, to start off, tell us about your background in art? What got you started? I know you've got a bit of a rare situation with 2 masters degrees in art correct? Tell us about your journey into the professional art world?

I used to hate art. I had an art teacher in middle school who was the opposite of a cool human. I had blue hair at the time and he sent me to the principal’s office because it was “distracting.” It was my high school art teacher who redirected me. I originally went to college to pursue art education, but instead, I pursued studio art with a concentration in painting. The university I attended had a Master of Arts program but did not offer a Master of Fine Arts degree. My advisor at the time was also the head of the department. He suggested I apply for the MA program because I would “get in” (he was the one who made those decisions anyway) so I just did it without a whole lot of thought. I was the only one who graduated from the program in 2015. I had lime green hair when I walked at the graduation ceremony and people stared at me the whole way from the stage to my seat. It was weird. When I was starting my second year of the MA program, I took a trip to the art office to gander at “The Big Book of Grad Schools” which is where I located and then applied to the University of Delaware. After graduating from the MFA program in 2017, I remained in Delaware for another year. I taught at a college in Pennsylvania, and continued to make paintings in my tiny apartment. I had 2 big shows that year. One in Tallahassee at Florida State University and one at the Waseca Arts Center in Waseca, MN. I think I’m still recovering from that year.

2. Your work is obviously abstract. But in an art world where that word is never quite enough, I'm very interested in how you describe your painting style? How do these landscapes of color and loose geometries come to be?

As much as I want to simply agree with the general comments of my paintings being “fun, bright, and exciting” I think they are more about taking up space and staying there. They, themselves, might not all be physically large, but I do think that at whatever size they are, they can hold their own. My current body of work is similar to past work but has more of a presence on the fabric and where the painting itself hangs. I find myself working from one extreme to the next. Circa 2013, my work was very, very loose, no structure really whatsoever. But now, with the shapes and linework, they sort of hold each color up- taking up space and also being contained in that space.

3. You've also got some work that seems more expressive, almost performance like, that experiments with line and word. How do these seemingly spontaneous pieces differ from your painting work? How are they similar?

I have, like, 3 categories of making. Color paintings, line drawings, and writing. The writing and line drawings do tend to mimic each other and/or work together. Whereas the color paintings stand alone. The line drawings also have been like sketches for larger paintings but I am still trying to figure out how they speak into larger forms/colors. It’s a work in progress. The writings are totally free writing with little to no editing but are a good start, or finish, to a drawing as well as spilling my emotional guts in a somewhat cryptic, poetic way.

4. I'm very interested to know what your process is like, I've seen pictures where you've covered whole rooms in plastic to knock out paintings. Is the experience very spontaneous? Is the work a reflection of the process? Or is there something deeper?

The reason for plastering up multiple blank canvasses at once is to push me to work, work, work. I’ve got a bad case of not being able to focus on one thing at a time unless I am locked into a hyper-focus trance, which can take hours to get into. No part of me cares if I have an entire day devoted to working in my studio, I always end up focused on something unrelated to what I set out to do. I have yet to determine what the distraction is, but it’s certainly there. Once I am hyper-focused, though, the experience of painting is maybe spiritual for me, like meditating. Being surrounded by 1-5 paintings at a time and moving across each one like swimming back and forth in a pool is very grounding. I believe the work can be a reflection of the process, but not always.

5. Your painting work has ventured off of the stretched canvas before in these collections that come together to form a singular installation or experience. What is this work process like? How do paintings or works venture off the stretchers to be draped or crumpled up for you? Is this a deeper relationship with color or material? Both?

The idea of paintings existing in space, unstretched, and into the pre-existing world is very exciting for me. In 2016, some friends and I drove to New Mexico for a wedding and made our way to Meow Wolf. Having no idea what to expect at the time, that experience has stuck with me in more ways than one. Colors, lights, shapes, textures, sound, etc. It was incredibly stimulating and allowed me to explore painting as installation and as an experience instead of solely 2-dimensional. I’ve seen a lot of 2D paintings (perfectly spaced and hung on a plain, white wall) all painted by old, white men for decades. I know that when I’m sewing dyed/stained/painted fabric into knots over, and over, and over again, and hanging them from the ceiling, and ripping paper and blasting big colored shapes all over pretty much everywhere- I am definitely thinking about how that might really piss off an old white dude. Maybe, maybe not. But the thought of it keeps me making more eye-burning, bright colored paintings.

6. You seem to have a relationship with color and shape that exist separately from your relationship with line. However, the two sides of your work do often crossover so I'm interested to know if this is a conscience separation and occasional partnership? Or do you just have two separate working styles that organically come together sometimes?

I’ve always thought they were two separate working styles. Just simply because the paintings are more fluid and organic, and the line drawings, albeit organic at times, can be very rigid- just as black line on white paper are that way as is. I have been spending time trying to figure out how the two styles can come together or if they should remain separate. I don’t know, I think the line drawings lend a hand to the paintings but don’t become one another. It’s still in the works.

7. You recently ventured into the public art sphere, doing a mural for an ice cream shop local to you (looks great by the way!). Is this something that you feel suites your work? And is it something that you'd like to do more of?

I kept telling everyone that the mural was a “one and done” type of scenario. However, there may be more opportunities in the future! I was lucky enough to have complete control over what was painted on that wall- as long as it had some kind of ice cream resemblance (well lucky for them, all of my shapes look like big ol scoops of ice cream) I love the idea of art being really public, like, to the point where you can’t miss it when you’re driving down the cross street and you look to your right and it’s very, very big and bright and beautiful. In this case, I think it really suited my work. Again, because I had total control of the outcome, and I was able to choose as many colors. It also helped that Casey, one of the owners, really loves my work and color choices. It was an exciting trip to the paint store.

8. You've also ventured into the event planning and art display game putting on these sort of guerrilla art shows in spaces that don't typically show art. How did these events come to be? What are the future goals of these events? Is the community side of art a big passion of yours?

I won’t name names, but I had a moment once at a certain gallery who had assistants helping some “more famous” artists in the gallery space next to the one I was installing in. Long story short - I needed to use the ladder they weren’t using but had next to them, and when I asked for it- they scoffed at me and told me I needed to wait (for what, I don’t know), scolded me for “trespassing”, and then- after delivering the ladder- proceeded to block off the space with chairs and cardboard boxes like I was some rabid, wild animal looking for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Obviously, I was pissed and thought they totally overreacted. But, it inspired me to be incredibly inclusive and accepting of all artists, no matter how far into the art world they are. All artist should be given the opportunity to show their work at anytime of their artmaking process. I strive to support any and all artists. Currently, there are no specific goals but to just keep doing them. I had to take a break because I totally burned myself out and had some other life activities to tend to.

9. Any exciting new projects or artistic ventures outside of your usual coming up?

For the last 18 months, I have completely and utterly exhausted myself of curating shows and events and general public engagement. I am preparing for a winter of hibernation and creation. I am pretty excited to say the least!

10. Finally, PLUGS! Where can people find you? Any shows or events coming up? Share anything and everything you'd like.

IG: @abbydalekiart (although I am not good at keeping this up to date)

I am located in Mankato, MN - 1.5 hours SW of Minneapolis/St. Paul

To keep updated on upcoming popup shows and previews of the artists showing, check us out on IG- @omnimatter

You can catch my band Speedweed at most bars/venues throughout the twin cities

IG: @speedweedmn

I am also a belly dancer and certified Fly Fusion Foundation practitioner. You can find awesome videos of us all over but mostly on the IG

@satorivioletbellydance @flyfusion


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