Credits: interview by Christina Elia for Thirdrail Art - Images by: Rebeka Skela and John Domine
SKELA basks in sundered surrealism. Her acidic forms animate walls with supernatural energy, compounding otherworldly compositions through representational geometricism. Ranging from female figures to animal portraits, the artist has a distinct style best described by as “skelarized,” a term she coined herself in 2008. I met Skela during the Akumal Arts Festival in Mexico while she painted a mural on the shady side of the bridge, a constant flow of music and merriment emanating from her section. She paused her portrait of an ocean goddess to enlighten me on her “skelariffic” street art journey.
When did you start painting?
I’ve painted my whole life. When I was younger, my mother let me paint the kitchen walls. My first ever piece was this Native American scene I designed. It’s funny -- when we left that house, she peeled off the wallpaper to keep it. Professionally, I’d say it’s been two years.
Has your style evolved since you started?
I originally started painting on canvas. I used to wheatpaste and do a lot of stencils in France, Berlin, and Barcelona, where I lived for three years. But I’ve been doing the same style since like 2008. My name is Skela and I “skelarize” my art. I’ve always enjoyed geometric shapes. My concept is that there are these shells keeping people inside, and nature is exploding out of them. It’s intertwined with technology.
Does technology play a large role in your art?
Kinda. It’s more about what society has become with its power: cold. I like painting nature, but recently, I’ve been doing a lot of portraits. I invented my own goddesses, it’s like my own religion. I came up with the concept because I’m honestly from everywhere. I’ve grown up in so many different places, but I don’t really have a country or a religion. I don’t want to appropriate one particular thing, but I like a lot of them. Now I just mix and match my own.
What exactly does it mean to Skelarize something?
I used to paint these little hybrid characters called Skelaburs - skeletons in bear skins. Skela comes from that. Then, I started doing these geometric shapes, which can be “skelarized” or “skelariffic.” I skelarize when I use these thin black lines and geometric shapes. I’m Skela, everything I touch turns to Skela. It’s not that mathematical, more so my own geometry.
I also have a snake I paint sometimes, a warning in yellow and black. I did my last one in Miami.
Has your upbringing shaped your work in any way?
Definitely. I grew up moving every two years, changing schools and countries. I lived in Africa when I was a kid and I loved to see all the wildlife there. I come from a family that really enjoys the outdoors. As a kid in Africa, we’d go to a restaurant and see a pack of hyenas outside. When I lived in Malawi, there were only three paved roads in the entire country.
Are the subjects you decide to paint influenced by your environment?
My themes definitely change. I kinda do the same thing, but depending on where I am, I’ll try to paint some animal that’s from there or based around that. But with these goddesses, I’m basically trying to bring awareness. I have this symbol - revolt with teeth - so it’s basically to fight back from nature. In a sense, it’s like artivism.
What were you going for with this piece you painted for the Akumal Arts Festival?
I love Mexican culture in general, but something about Akumal’s environment really inspires me - the people, the art, the nature. In this mural, my subject is an ocean goddess. She’s coming out of the water and puking out all the trash to clean it. She’s ingesting the bathwater and cleaning it out. I conceived this with Akumal in mind since the sea is so close. It’s really sad to witness how much plastic inhabits our oceans. We need to clean up after ourselves. Pretty much everything I paint is about the environment. For example, I painted a red panther in Clarkstown, Mississippi. The animal has been extinct for a really long time now because people started planting corn, destroying their habitats. I painted a red panther with corn exploding from it.
Do you sketch out your pieces?
I do a very rough sketch. I don’t like to do my sketches too much. I like to figure out things. If I do my drawing too detailed, I get bored because it’s already done. I had this mural in mind before I came to Akumal. I knew I was going to be coming here since the beginning of the year. I had some time.
You can see more of Rebeka Skela work HERE