Why limit myself? It seems like a pretty simple question, but it’s what made Shayna Klee realize that any opportunity to connect with others and tell a story through self-expression was worth it. Spanning video, sculpture, painting, performance and poetry – and all the witty ways she’s found to interconnect these disciplines –, the artist’s work has a signature style and voice. And the best of it all is that it’s “something that no one can take away” from her.
From the dreamy city of Paris, a place where “you don’t need to be rich to feel rich”, as Shayna says, and surrounded by other inspiring artists, she explores topics like the several identities that today almost everyone has, physical realities or the surreal mind. With a vivid approach, using many metaphors and always having fun, Shayna stays away from the cliché of the brooding artist and immerses the viewers into her particular universe of colour and self-exploration.
Shayna Klee Metalmagazine 6.jpg
You’re currently studying while also working on your own artistic production. But did you always see yourself as an artist? Did you ever consider approaching art from a more theoretical level?
I’ve always been creative but I didn’t go down the path of visual arts right away. My biggest obstacle growing up was that I wanted to do everything – music, writing, acting, drawing –, so I took a long time to figure out what direction to go in. After high school, I took classes as a creative writing and theatre major (which is why I’m so inspired by props and sets now).
Once I moved to Paris though, I began painting daily and would often make these sculptures from pizza boxes, old furniture I found at thrift stores, etc. I realized from there that I wanted to be an artist and mix everything I had studied previously (performance, poetry, video). I thought, why limit myself? What has stayed constant is my love for storytelling.
You’re originally from the United States but moved to Paris, where you are still living. What does this city give to you? And to your art? Did Paris fulfil your expectations?
On a very superficial level, Paris has given me the gift of simple pleasures. People really take the time to enjoy things, and life seems to move slower here. You can pass an afternoon sitting at a café with a book and a glass of wine and that is totally normal. I always say you don’t need to be rich to feel rich in this city, and that is a beautiful thing for a young artist. As for my creativity, I think being a foreigner in any setting can be inspiring. Even something as simple as the fact that I grew up watching American TV shows and have different pop culture references from my French peers can be an interesting point to draw from.
You record your day-to-day (walking around Paris, visiting cafés and museums, working in the studio, etc.) and share this content on Youtube. This is something that speaks a lot about our generation. How did this come up? Did you imagine to have such a great welcome?
In a lot of ways, I felt like I was late to the party! I didn’t have my first smartphone until 2018 and was very anti-social media for the better half of the last five years. I was spending eight to ten hours a day in my art studio working on sculpture pieces and would find myself alone a lot. So, one day, I randomly started filming myself and my art process and found something lovely about the vulnerability in it and the fact that being a creative can be lonely. I also love filming the beautiful humans I know and what it’s like to be a young contemporary artist in France today. I continued because it felt special and I felt motivated to show the world this side of Paris.
In Paris, you attend an art college. From your experience, how is studying art like? What are the pros and cons?
Art school in Paris is very different from the US. In the US, you have a lot of required classes and assignments to improve in a technical sense. At my MFA programme in Paris, it is a self-directed study where you are free to come and work as you wish. You can be there every day working in your studio or you can be there once a week. At this time in my life, this is ideal for me because I want to work on the projects that interest me and on my own time. It is not so much the training that is beneficial, but rather it is having the space to create and being surrounded by other inspiring artists daily.
Your work explores a variety of topics like internet identities, solitude and the pull between our physical realities and the surreal mind. How do these topics relate to you on a personal level?
I have always been moved by the poetry that exists within contrasts. Life has dark spots, but we all have the ability to escape through our imagination and humour. I think that this is why satire can be a really interesting approach to creating. I definitely relate to existing in the virtual world, being a little person in a computer screen waving from a far-off planet, connected to so many people at once and yet eating lasagna on my living room floor alone. I guess that is the tension I am talking about – that today, almost everyone has several identities in different planes (virtual or not). Which one is real? There is no set answer, but I have fun trying to navigate the spaces in between.
“Today, almost everyone has several identities in different planes (virtual or not). Which one is real? There is no set answer, but I have fun trying to navigate the spaces in between.”
You always explore these themes through a great variety of colours, textures and materials, thus creating works that are very impressive on a visual level. How did you find this particular vision/style?
My visual interpretations of these themes are connected to what I had previously said about satire being a more pleasant and easily digestible way to explore darker topics. The colour, the bold shapes and textures I use – and which people often tell me they want to eat – are a way to draw people in to look more closely. This intense visual universe is an illusion that serves to distract from a certain fragility.
Sculpture, performance, video, painting… Certainly, you are a multidisciplinary artist. But what is the common element that your works always have? Is the creative process for every artwork more or less the same regardless of the medium?
The common element is finding the light and dark places and dancing the line in-between those two points. Whether it is a sculpture, a video or a text, I identify the issue (the dark spot) I want to approach and then think of the most fantastic, colourful metaphors, stories or representations that I can use to explore it (the light spot). I think it’s important to have fun because life should be fun! I hate the cliché of the brooding artist. It’s important to be excited about what you're doing.
You have found a very personal style, but was it difficult for you to trust your own vision at the beginning (or now, still)?
I feel very lucky in that early on, my crazy ideas and strange style were encouraged by my first art professors. Having that foundation and positive reinforcement gave me that initial confidence and space to experiment and find my own style and voice. That is something that no one can take away from me, and so even if people don’t get my work now, it doesn’t phase me. I find that a good measure of whether or not I am going in the right direction is if I feel joy and excitement. If I am, then I know it must be something cool!
Besides art, you also love fashion. Do you draw a relationship between the two? Do you consider that fashion is as useful as art to express yourself?
I think that if you are a creative person that lives and breathes your work, that energy will naturally flow into every aspect of your life. Whether that be my apartment, my fashion sense, my choice of vacation destination… it is all another opportunity to connect with others and tell a story through self-expression. Having said that, I don’t personally connect to fashion as a medium the same way I do with sculpture or painting. I think this is because without a person wearing it, the clothing has no raison d’être – or utility, if you will. A sculpture or a painting are created to stand on their own.
Your fashion style is as unique as your work. You have said before that you are a big fan of vintage and thrift shops, and that many of your garments feature DIY elements. How is your artistic vision and craftsmanship reflected on your clothes?
I think I bring a similar energy to the act of DIYing clothing as I do to the creation of an artwork. I love getting into that flow state where you put on some music and just try stuff out! I also truly enjoy recycling and giving something a new life, whether that be an interesting hunk of metal from the junkyard or a two-piece suit from the ‘80s I can paint rainbows on. I love the potential in it all, the love you can feel for the creativity, the play, the improvising… There is nothing like walking into the grocery store in an outfit you just DIYed and feeling like damn, this is cool. It’s all about the energy.
Shayna Klee Metalmagazine 11.jpg
Let’s talk about inspiration. When it comes to creating and also when it comes to dressing, what are your main references? Any recommendations?
I’m very much inspired by theatre, particularly the props and sets. Aesthetically speaking, I love the very naive and handmade qualities in these objects and how an accessory made of cardboard or very cheap materials can be transformed, and then be used as the catalyst in a fictional scene. I love seeing the potential in everyday materials. I also love the possibility for many layers and dimensions in these very fragile, imaginary worlds because I think they can serve as a metaphor for many of life’s contradictions. I think I like to approach getting dressed from a very similar place – a place where the things you choose to wear can somehow become poetry.
You live in Paris, you have found a personal style, you share space with other creative people… Seems the ideal environment for creating. However, did you ever experience a creative block? What do you do when you are in this situation?
I experience something that I would consider the opposite of a creative block but can be equally as frustrating. I feel like I have a laundry list of projects I want to work on but never enough time! I think I don’t experience blocks because I have many projects that are in different dimensions (my Youtube channel, vintage shop, etc.), so I feel very lucky to never be blocked by any one thing. I suppose that my advice would be to have a few different fires burning so that if you feel stuck, you can easily switch on to something else and maybe regain inspiration that way.
To finish the interview, what are your future plans? Any message that you want to share?
Right now, I’m working on a series of paintings for a group show in Paris, which is exciting! I’m also finishing my first poetry collection and filming for a docu-series on young artists for my Youtube channel. I love to have many different hats on at once! I would love to tell the readers of your magazine: the world needs your unique gifts and talents! Follow your dreams and fuck the rest. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t. I can’t wait to see what you create!
Shayna Klee Metalmagazine 17.jpg
Shayna Klee Metalmagazine 10.jpg
Shayna Klee Metalmagazine 13.jpg
Shayna Klee Metalmagazine 15.jpg
Shayna Klee Metalmagazine 16.jpg
Shayna Klee Metalmagazine 14.jpg
Shayna Klee Metalmagazine 2.jpg