Senior Shelby Grebbin, a former Beacon managing editor and self-taught artist, began painting during her freshman year to impress a long-distance significant other. When the relationship did not work out, she decided to continue exploring her artistic endeavors and create new paintings with themes such as order, transformation, and disorder.
Three years later, 10 of her paintings now hang in the Iwasaki Library, turning the white, blank walls vibrant and full of color. The paintings were installed over spring break.
“I like to use a lot of bright colors in my paintings because I feel like they draw out strong feelings and memories, different feelings, and ideas from different people,” Grebbin said.
Grebbin, a journalism major, said architecture and landscapes inspire her work, along with people she knows and objects she sees. Senior Karin Hoelzl and Grebbin have been friends since their freshman year. Grebbin said she often draws inspiration from Hoelzl.
After four years of friendship, Hoelzl said she saw Grebbin develop a distinct style since she began painting. She also recognized the change of purpose in Grebbin’s artwork—it began as an outlet to express Grebbin’s emotions in private, and now she continues to share her art with the Boston community.
Other than the Iwasaki Library, Grebbin has displayed her work at a pop-up art show in Malden, Massachusetts and the Hidden Lantern Festival, an Emerson event that highlights students’ work with a focus on mental health awareness.
While Grebbin’s pieces feature colorful, enticing, and inviting elements, and one can easily start interpreting the dark themes they give off, Hoelzl said.
“I think her art is political—it’s dark, and it’s poignant,” Hoelzl said. “It definitely speaks to emotions that she is going through or themes that she is affected by in the news.”
Grebbin said that, when she paints, she uses similar techniques she would use when writing an article—she looks for a story, sketches it out, and tries to show it in its most complete form. Grebbin said she also uses different technical skills and intellectual facets, too.
“Painting is different compared to journalism—it uses a very different kind of intelligence than maybe asking people questions and writing,” Grebbin said. “I find that in terms of doing freelancing, internships, and painting, it certainly is not easy to balance, but I find that the two complement each other really well.”
Grebbin said she enjoys hearing feedback from different people about her paintings. Tim Riley, an associate professor for the Journalism Department, advised Grebbin to reach out to Iwasaki Library Director Robert Fleming.
Grebbin met with Fleming back in early February and showed him two pieces of her artwork. She explained to Fleming how the two paintings represented the concepts of language and thought, and how it becomes a powerful message when those two concepts connect.
Grebbin said Fleming fell in love with the two pieces and told her that she could display 10 paintings in the library. She said she picked the displayed paintings based on how they would look together and how they portrayed her overall message.
“[Her paintings are] vibrant, colorful, and kind of abstract, so there is nothing that could be potentially upsetting or controversial about [them],” Fleming said. “I like how her art reads well from a distance, but it rewards you if you get up and take a closer look.”
Fleming said Grebbin’s work exemplifies what he wants to see on the library walls in the future. He said he likes how her paintings include different layers and textures, so one could have a richer experience if look at it closely.
Grebbin met with Fleming in February and had less than a month to install the paintings over spring break. Grebbin picked her top 10 paintings out of her collection and considered how they all portray her overall message. Her artwork does not typically have names attached to them, but she composes them similarly. Grebbin said she paints in an abstract way with bright colors to spark emotion in the viewer.
“I like how something that is really structured can draw the eye, and having disorder within structure is really interesting,” Grebbin said.
While some students might see the library as a place solely to study and to conduct research, Fleming said he hopes Grebbin’s art can encourage and inspire other Emerson artists—including students, staff, and professors—to get involved and put their art on the walls.
“I am always happy when students approach me,” Fleming said. “Sometimes the work is not always what we want to put up on the library walls, but I am always happy to talk with students and look at their work to see if it is a good fit.”
Grebbin said she never had 10 pieces of her art displayed publicly together. She said she enjoys knowing that many people see her work every day. All 10 paintings are for sale and range from $50 to $700, depending on size. Those interested in purchasing a painting may reach out to Grebbin via email or in person.
“To me, the greatest support to make art is to see all sorts of people and people I don’t know look at my art and enjoy it—that’s what keeps me going,” Grebbin said.
3/21/19: In a previous version of this article, the Beacon misstated one of Grebbin’s themes. The article has been changed to reflect that.