The sharp and playful art of Kelly Breez

This interview is produced in partnership with Commissioner, a membership program that aims to grow a community of new local art collectors in Miami, and share the stories of Miami arts and artists.

Every quarter, the program commissions one artist to create original limited edition works for its members. Learn more about Commissioner and meet their third commissioned artist, Kelly Breez. Still in its inaugural year, previous participants have included Typoe and Adler Guerrier

Kelly Breez is a Miami-based artist with a bachelor’s from the New World School of the Arts. Breez weaves a sharp eye for subtle humor into her work, acting like a mirror to the absurdities of life. With an uncanny attention to detail and the likeness of a sponge, Breez naturally absorbs the nuances of the unpredictable tropical hinterland she calls home.

She’s made art for places like Shinola, an American luxury brand, the city of Detroit and OBEY Clothing, which was founded by artist Shepard Fairey. Kelly is also the recipient of the ProMax BDA Gold Medal for Outstanding Creative Direction and Design: SundanceTV.

Learn more about Breez in this video, view her work on her website, or follow her on Instagram at @kellybreez.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity and was conducted by Commissioner and Whereby.us co-founder Rebekah Monson. 

So, you come from a family of artists. Did you always know that you wanted to be an artist professionally?

Full-blown. I keep joking about how being an artist is a total life sentence. And you basically have no say in the matter, and I mean that in the best way possible. It’s so much harder for people who don’t come from an arts background that forge their way into it and have to convince their whole family that it’ll be great.

I had a huge support system and a lot of people that I looked up to on both sides of my family, but primarily my Granny was a prolific artist and it trickled down into me. She was an art teacher for a really long time. She was a master watercolorist and would just go sit outside and paint scenes. She just never stopped working. I think I just learned how to have an eye and appreciate stuff from her.

So, yeah, the whole art thing was coming for me no matter what. I’m just trying to make the most of it.

That’s such a wonderful story. What an amazing influence to have right in your family. How did that develop later? What other artists influence your work?

I think the earliest it goes back was I remember paying really freakishly close attention as a little kid to all of the ways that the books that I [read] were illustrated.

I hadThe Night before Christmas book. It was the super old one where everything was really cross-hatched. And I remember thinking when I was five, “Oh my God, that’s so badass.” And so it just snowballed from there. My Granny again hooked me up with a lot of books that were mid-century illustration-based, and I think you could still find a lot of that stuff referenced in my work now.

When I started going to New World School of the Arts and taking art history, I went off the deep end for Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. He just blew it wide-open for me.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s whole thing was inspired from Japanese woodblock printing. I was drawn to the combination of that and how loose his brushstrokes were, combined with the fact that he was partying in these crazy-ass nightclubs with all of these super interesting people.

Then, you go to art school and you’re listening to every kind of music you can get your hands on. I was listening to a lot of Hot Snakes at the time. The singer of that band, Rick Froberg, is just straight-up one of my favorite artists. His stuff is kind of loose and brushstrokey, and he does a lot of black and white work.

After Froberg, I had this revelation — this color revolution — a few years ago. I got into Mary Blair and was also a big fan of old-school Disney cartooning and their wild color palettes. Those influences are all super important to me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about like your book series that I’ve seen at Soho House, “An Important Library Full of Important Knowledge.”

One that really sticks out to me as a journalism person is “How to ignore the news uugghhh.” You’re making a pretty incisive point there, but in a way that feels accessible and fun and really cuts at our current culture.

What inspires that playfulness and incisiveness and humor that we see in what you do?

It starts super early. Both of my parents have a pretty funny sense of humor and they both love to have a laugh and it can be pretty sarcastic. So, I caught onto the whole idea of injecting humor into things I make.

Shit is easier if you can laugh about it. But you know there’s definitely a serious side. It’s not all fun and games. I deal with it this way.

The reason why I think that hallway in Soho is so funny and why people are enjoying it is because it’s so relatable. People are so fucking sick of the news right now.

People are so quick to be so serious about all this shit, and I just think it can be so insufferable after a while.?

You straddle all these things in your work. There’s relevance and humor and this graphic style and also resin work that you do that makes your illustrations feel very sculptural. It’s all combined in this really interesting way and yet your work is something that people who are not “art people” can really get into also. And I wonder what’s that like — to not have a “category” to easily fit?

I think sometimes I can be perceived as not as intellectual as some of my peers because I choose to highlight humor so much. Which, you know, can get kind of old. But also at the same time, I don’t really fucking care.

You can’t be more than one thing, right? You can only be a serious artist or you can be funny?

Exactly. Which is why I have wedged myself into a unique situation because I like sitting in between the two worlds. I am this illustrator who works in a lot of other mediums, and I want to bridge this weird gap.

When I was a drawing major in school, I would never just turn in drawings. I called them 3D drawings and I’d make these pieces with all these found objects. I just drove my teachers insane. I don’t know, I just feel like there’s all these expectations and lines you should be walking in, but I just cannot subscribe to that. So I’ve made it my mission to exist in a few different realms.

That stance is very interesting, especially in this moment that we’re in right now. It also seems very relevant Miami in particular. There’s this whole mash-up aspect and tropicalness — the beach, boats, keeping the cold one extra cold. I appreciate that as a Miami person.

What do you think are the opportunities and challenges of being an artist in Miami. And what do you think Miami artists really need to thrive?

Miami is such a “make it your own experience” kind of place. I think it’s really special in that way. When I lived in San Francisco I was only doing drawings because I had a desk in my room, and no other space. Not only are there different opportunities for studios, but I feel like there’s so much material here.

The side of Miami that I love the most is like the industrial side of it, and all this crazy amount of trash and like resources everywhere, which is what I responded to in college when I was non-stop thrifting for all these cool found objects. There are just so many resources to work with here and so many different kinds of experiences, aesthetics, and neighborhoods.

The thing artists need to thrive here is continued support from patrons and collectors and people who are interested in giving back to the artistic community, which is why I think Commissioner hits the nail on the head here, because it’s super rad to help people give directly back to artists.

A lot of people just don’t know what to ask an artist or don’t know what to say or do to start a purchase. Do you have any advice for people who are interested in getting started in collecting?

Being genuinely interested I think starts with a studio visit and expressing the desire to truly get to the bottom of what somebody is doing. It’s about getting to know that artist and seeing the environment and how they work. Not only that, but then also developing working relationships. You know, you’re understanding how much effort and thought, and how much money’s worth of material and work goes into a piece.

I think that is super crucial and that’s a good way to start a dialogue. I love it when people reach out to me on Instagram and are like, “Hey, what’s up. I like what you’re working on and I’d love to come by some time.” Come on. Come see what’s going on in here, because you know it’s art, and it’s meant to be shared.

Can I ask you a couple of really dumb Miami questions? Yeah. OK.

Croquetas or pastelitos? Oh come on. Pastelitos. All day.

Which one? What shape? Guava and cheese. Triangle. That’s the only one. Triangle is the only one.