Allow us to introduce nine artists and designers who use everything from acrylic paint to their own bodies in the service of pushing the boundaries of beauty. Their creations offer resistance, innovation, delirious escape—and in an age of “alternative facts,” we need it all. These are the New Creatives.
For the married multimedia duo known as Dabs Myla, work and play often mean the same thing. Their immersive pieces incorporate bubbly letters, geometric patterns, kitschy motifs and anthropomorphic characters—impish hot dogs, cheerful cacti, sexy martinis. Whether reimagining a Hello Kitty character for Sanrio or erecting a cityscape for MTV, the Los Angeles–based pair are masters of recasting ordinary objects and ideas into sprawling Technicolor environments.
Their influences include Disneyland, graffiti, midcentury modernism, tattoo flash and vintage Hollywood. But while their visual tapestries suggest organized chaos—picture the Looney Tunes cast cannonballing into a Slim Aarons pool for a taping of MTV Spring Break—nothing has a greater impact on their imaginary worlds than the real one they’ve created together.
If you just switch your brain, you can see all of these colors and amazing things in the world.
The couple fell in love at art school in their native Melbourne 11 years ago. Dabs taught Myla how to draw graffiti, and they merged their noms de plume soon after. (They asked us not to reveal their full names.) These days, they finish each other’s sentences and haven’t spent more than 12 hours apart. “We’re still two people, I think,” Dabs says, “but just barely.”
Dabs Myla have painted murals around the world, exhibited at galleries including MOCA, Jonathan LeVine and Known, and collaborated with global brands including Adidas, Viacom and Vans. A request to design the set for the 2015 MTV Movie Awards came with a chance to realize their creations on a career-defining scale and generated momentum for their largest design job to date: transforming a 4,000-square-foot warehouse into a mixed-media wonderland with the furniture company Modernica.
Their current focus is on a pop-up installation coming this fall. The timing is appropriate: In an age of seething national animosity, Dabs Myla’s designs can be seen as defiantly escapist. “The color and the luminosity of our work is what I see as beauty,” Myla says. “And when I look at the world and I’m not thinking about all the fucked-up shit, that’s what I see: all these incredible colors.”
You’re developing artwork for an upcoming pop-up exhibit in a yet-to-be-determined space. What’s exciting about creating work before it has a home?
MYLA: It’s the best way for us, because it means that our creativity has no boundaries. We can just go crazy within one space. We did a show in 2015 in a similar way. We stumbled across a 1930 Spanish revival that eventually became the Before & Further exhibition. We painted everything: the inside of the house, every banister, the entire outside of the house. The house had lots of little rooms, and that really dictated what we were going to do with the space. Even though we had some ideas already formed, we had fit them into specific spaces and shapes.
DABS: We had a concept. We’d made all the paintings. We knew we wanted the exhibit to be an installation, but we didn’t know in what form. Because of that, we hoped to find a space that was more than just an empty room—something with character that we could build from. The building that came around helped dictate what we created. It’s such a cool way to work.
You’re from Australia and live in the Hollywood Hills. How do you define beauty—in general and in relation to where you’ve lived?
MYLA: We define beauty as some sort of marriage of colors and shapes. The color of a crazy flower, or a cactus or someone’s eyes or hair. When I look at the world and I’m not thinking about all the fucked-up shit, that’s what I see – all these incredible colors. If you just switch your brain, you can see all of these amazing things in the world. I think Los Angeles helps with this, because it’s so light here and the sun and the sky look amazing pretty much every day.
DABS: Our work has also always looked the way it does because it’s always about the energy between us. Whatever we’re doing, it’s somehow about love. There are a million things between us. We are super positive people and we love our life.
Speaking of fucked-up shit, your work is consistently whimsical and upbeat. How do stay positive when the rest of the world seems to be going mad?
MYLA: Its bananas. Every day. I literally can’t believe what is going on right now, and I don’t want it to affect our work because we’ve gotten to a point where it’s at its brightest. There’s a lot of fucked up things going on in the world, specifically in this country, and it is important to pay attention to that. I think about it a lot, but I don’t want it to infiltrate what is going on in the studio. I wake up 20-30 minutes early in the morning to read what’s going on just because I need to know. I process it all and it pops into my mind a little during the day and we might have some conversations about it, like, “I can’t even believe this is real.” There was a moment we asked each other, “Is this the place that we want to live? And then we were like, “Fuck, yeah, this is the place we want to live. We love this place. We’re not leaving because of this.” This is our home and we love it, but goddamn.
You are rare examples of multidisciplinary artists who have achieved commercial success while managing to maintain street cred as graffiti writers. How do your different artistic worlds influence one another?
DABS: We do a lot of different things. We spray paint murals and we make paintings for exhibitions. We make 3D installations and then we do some commercial work like the MTV Movie Awards set or a collaboration with Vans. We love all the different things that we’re doing, but what’s cool about them is that each one influences us and motivates us in a different way. We can talk about the Movie Awards and how we took something from that. We take something from everything. If someone wants us to paint big—commercial things or a mural—we’ll take something from that and use it in paintings and vice versa. The different things we’re doing all feed one another.