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Houston-Based Artist Shelbi Nicole Is Bringing Us Into Her Whimsy World

Houston, Texas, the hometown of the greats of the likes of powerhouse siblings Solange and Beyoncé, NASA and easily the most diversified cuisine on the planet, is also the turf of a thriving art scene. For artist Shelbi Nicole Gregory, she’s helping to enlighten the world’s view of H-town with her distinctive artwork.

The Whimsy World, Gregory’s very own Alice in Wonderland-esque exhibition, has been a dream of hers for four years. It all started two years ago when Gregory presented her creations at an art show at 8th Wonder Brewery in Houston. Moriah Alise, Owner/Art Director of District Art Gallery, admired Gregory’s work. Subsequently, Gregory told Alise her vision and the immediate synergy led to their partnership. Fast forward to a year later and voila! Last month, the District Art Gallery was transformed into The Whimsy World.

Instead of citing artists as influences, Gregory credits shapes and science as her fodder for inspiration. She states, “If you can imagine walking into one of my paintings, there’s funky shapes and abstract imagery; lots of color, very vibrant and there’s these lifelike installations that we’re creating.” The inimitable, whimsical art show is accompanied by a special shop inside of the gallery filled with limited edition art pieces created by Gregory.

The grand opening event, taking place on the evening of March 15, will feature a pink carpet, DJ and a glimpse into Gregory’s matchless artistry. “It’s very much me as an artist. Since I’ve visualized this, I’ve seen tons of installations pop up all over the country. I think some of them are a little underwhelming because they’re just companies putting on whatever they think somebody [wants]. This is an art show, an interactive art experience. I think that makes it different. It’s created by an artist and a group of artists. So, I think there will be a distinct difference. It is an interactive installation show, but it’s very much artsy,” Gregory adds.

Milk had a chat with the veteran artist about all things Whimsy. Peep the full interview below.

I’ve had the privilege of attending The Whimsy World. How did the concept come to fruition?

It’s been an idea of mine for a number of years. I’ve wanted to create a more lifelike art experience that was interactive, but lifelike in a sense that the elements from my paintings come to life through sculptural elements; painting with art falling off of the walls. I envisioned the art on a grander scale. I really started thinking about it when I started painting more public murals. It was like, well, I don’t just want to paint on canvases anymore. That’s where it all started. Then, I met the District Art Gallery owner and had a space, then went from there.

You’re actually moving the exhibition to a different venue this week. So, will this be The Whimsy World 2.0 upgrade? What have you added?

We’re having a pink carpet grand opening on Friday. I would say we’ve upped it a lot. The show’s growing and gaining momentum. We have more sponsors; thus, we can afford to do more. This time we built out an entire infinity room. It’s a 14×14 foot room with a mirror cube in the center of it that reflects all of my shapes off of the floor, walls and ceiling. We’ve got over six new installations. We brought the same Whimsy. We have a few of the same installations, but we’ve really customized Whimsy towards this new 3,300 square foot space. We’ve also included a themed installation based on the Sugarland, Texas area.

That’s exciting!

I’m so excited for it. It’s going to be there through the end of April. From there, we’ll go to another city. It’s growing and it’s just so much fun. This is my dream. I still haven’t truly processed it. So, we’re expanding to different cities. Sugarland is just outside of [Houston]. From there, we’re in talks to moving it somewhere else. We’re trying to make our way to Austin in the next six months or so.

You’ve been in the art space for over ten years at this point. So, how do you feel you’ve grown as an artist over the years?

It’s night and day. I’ve always painted since I was young, but I didn’t ever publicly show my work until I moved back to Houston in 2008. I went through all sorts of phases with my art and different mediums and figuring out my voice. It’s always been very vibrant with lots of colors. My signature look has really evolved over the ten years. I started hanging my art in coffee shops and now I’ve started getting murals and creating The Whimsy World. It’s definitely been a journey.

You mentioned finding your voice. When it comes to artistry, what has contributed to you finding out who you are? Any advice for someone just starting out?

I’d say there’s a few things. I think it’s really important to be true to yourself and paint whatever you feel or create whatever you feel. Don’t try to create what you feel like everyone wants you create. Try to just stick to whatever you feel most comfortable with. If you’re trying to pursue the arts and make a living doing it, that’s a challenging thing. It’s really important to network and meet other artists that can help you learn and grow and help you get into shows. Once you find those handful of people who really love your work and believe in it, they can help you to get grander shows and help fund them. They truly help you to survive as an artist. Some of these things get expensive. I’m always like go big or go home. Unfortunately, I haven’t always had the luxury of having funding to do some of these large-scale projects. Ten years later, I do have supporters and people who help me fund these when I come to them with all of these crazy ideas like The Whimsy World. That’s everything.

You moved back to Houston in 2008. I know you’ve lived in Miami and France for a while. What sets the Houston art scene apart from those locations you’ve experienced?

I’ve experienced places that are all very different, but Houston is unique to any other place that I’ve been because of the diversity. Here in Houston I’m exposed to over 90 languages that are spoken here. The diversity is incredible. That’s what I really love about Houston. It’s rich in culture. It influences everything. It’s such a well-rounded city. You can go a few blocks and be in Chinatown, then be in a whole other pocket.

People are starting to see Houston’s diversity on a global scale.

I think they are catching on slowly, but there’s still so many people out there that think we’re a certain way that’s dated. It’s so not true.

As far as the future goes, you touched on the expansion of The Whimsy World. What is your next step creatively?

I’m looking forward to my art being shown on a bigger scale and getting it into other cities outside of Houston. I want others to experience it as well. I’ve been showing in Houston for some time. I’ve done a few shows. I got to do a show in London a couple of years ago which was another dream of mine. I haven’t done any shows in other states really other than Texas. It’s time for me to venture out. I think The Whimsy World will do that. Every time we move, we’ll get to make something unique to those cities. I would love to go to New York with The Whimsy World. I’m hoping eventually we can get a show there. I’m so down!

Images courtesy of Blah Blah Co. 

Stay tuned to Milk for more Texan artists.

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