The women featured in Kevin Sabo’s extensive collection of works are sassy, crude, and fantastical, seeming to occupy some place between frightening and friendly. Sabo’s characteristic style, an otherworldly blend of colours and textures, presents as a weird and slutty pop culture-driven alternative universe.
It's a refreshing and inviting world, and one that has landed Sabo at exhibitions across the United States, and abroad. Sabo describes his work as an examination of queer fantasy and gender expression and is as disarming as it is exciting. A practice in spontaneity, none of the work is planned; best described as a large sketch, the direction unfolds and crystallises as Sabo works. As the feminine divas stomp and strut their way across the canvas, with the braggadocious confidence of a 2000s icon, they serve as “gay fairy godmothers,” allowing Sabo to heal through artistic expression.

It's this unadulterated and pleasurable style that makes his work so iconic and fun, engaging the viewer in a sort of staring contest, the gay fairy godmothers seem to suavely exhale after a long drag on their cigs, before spitting out, “who ya looking at, huh?” It's a question that jolts the viewer, triggering introspection, granting freedom, and resonating worldwide.
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Congrats on the recent opening of your exhibition Snafu at Pamplemousse gallery Richmond, in collaboration with Georgies Gurl. Can you describe the space and what sort of exhibitions and events you all are looking to curate there in the upcoming year?
Thank you! After a year or 2 of not really showing in Richmond, it felt like I was losing touch with this city’s art scene, which I’ve always thought was really vibrant and incredible for a medium-sized city. As a sort of homecoming, I thought it’d be fun to open up a small gallery space with Mary Fleming, who had been a mentor to me earlier on in my art career. Our goal is to merge our favourite artists we admire from out of town with the amazing talent that already exists in this city. We’ve already got some pretty wacky and wild shows planned for this year.
More broadly, how would you characterise the art scene in Richmond like and are there any fellow artists you would wish to highlight?
After 7 years here, I still think Richmond artists are some of the best in the country. There’s something about the way artists here interpret the world around them that feels new and inventive. Artists here have a lot of tenacity and don’t wait for the approval of higher-ups to discover them or whatever. They just make shit happen, and it’s a beautiful thing.
For those unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe your practice and style?
I’d describe my work as wiggly, draggy figures existing in flat planes of space. I like to keep in touch with my fantasy world that I built as a kid, and I like to think about how much we already know about ourselves when we’re younger. I think that my work can come off as so playful because painting for me feels like a modern version of playing with Bratz dolls or whatever.
I usually start with quick, spontaneous fleshy blobby human-like forms that I basically dress up and add hair and makeup to. It feels like I’m acknowledging and playing with something I felt like I wasn’t able to do safely or publicly as a kid, which is why I think I connect so much with the idea of drag, and how expansive and undefinable that term can be for people. It’s genderfucky and weird and beautiful.
What marked your entry into the art world so to speak, have you been creating from a young age?
I’ve been drawing very similar figures since I was probably 6 years old. I loved reality TV growing up, and would literally draw my own fictional characters on sheets of paper and give them names, careers, stories, etc. and imagine how they’d interact with each other.
Can you name a few influences – visual artists or otherwise who you return to for reference and inspiration?
Just anything 2000s pop culture. Survivor, the Sims, Fear Factor, America’s Next Top Model, Tekken Tag Tournament, the list is endless. Also, drag artists like Most Softest Pillow, Bo Quinn, my friend Wacky Jacky here in town… They all do makeup that is so transformative and bizarre, a little bit dark and a lot of fun.
The focus of your work is often, as you described in your interview with Surface mag, on “fussy little divas.” Do you personalise these figures in your mind? What sort of attributes do you give to these women, would you all be friends if they were to leap from the canvas?
We’d certainly be friends, yes! Sometimes it feels like a full-time job trying to love yourself and understand your queerness, so these figures do personify the way I’m feeling. They also help cheer me up if I’m feeling down or unsure, sometimes I see them as my gay fairy godmothers guiding me to places of healing expression. Kind of like how Jennifer Coolidge is for everybody.
How has your style developed over the years? There's an element of fashion design to your work, do you see a potential shift towards wearable art?
It’s just been a lot of trying out different styles of figures, a lot of which didn’t stick or didn’t feel as real or all-encompassing. I imagine this type of character will continue to grow up, just like I do, and adjust themselves to their environment and to what I learn as an artist. I would one hundred per cent love to get more into wearable art, I think it’d be really fun to do a fashion show one day, but instead of just printing my work onto fabric, I’m imagining it being more of like a dress-like-one-of-my-figures type thing. I need to be the first one to dress like that though, and I’m still deciding how that will be executed. I would want to make everything from scratch, even if it were just a simple bikini or whatever. And I need a lot of makeup practice.
Your work has been shown in galleries globally, what has this experience been like? And what are some of your favourite galleries, anywhere in the world?
Travelling for my art is a thing I’m feeling very proud and happy about. It’s something that I never really thought would happen this early, or if at all. Sometimes I look back at 2022 and wonder if any of it really happened!? I haven’t had a lot of time to process, but the gallerists I’ve worked with this year have all been a lot of fun and each is so unique. Bim Bam Gallery in Paris, Kates-Ferri Projects in New York City, Schlomer Haus Gallery in San Fran, Povos Gallery in Chicago were the shows I was able to make in person, and it was all unforgettable. I remember that I may never get another year like this past year, and while I’m obviously hoping it just keeps getting bigger and bigger, I’m feeling extremely grateful for everybody who wanted to show their big-city audience my small-city work. That’s pretty fucking cool.
You’ve described the process of painting these figures as playing drag queen, and a means of escaping ‘masculine boxes’ you’ve been trapped in, can you elaborate a bit more on that sense of freedom that comes with painting these ultra-femme divas?
I am somebody who can’t really hide my queerness even if I wanted to. No matter what circumstance, the minute I open my mouth (if my posture didn’t already explain it) I will be perceived as a fruitcake. It has subjected me to bullying and has felt like a physical and emotional safety hazard since I was born. I don’t want to disregard the many privileges I do possess, but these ‘masculine boxes’ you’re put in since birth feel like a harness you can’t escape from. Coming to terms with that is a complicated journey. Do you follow suit to what is expected of you? Or do you embrace the inner diva/inner freak? Painting is where I feel most able to just be myself and embrace the inescapable queer art kid genetics I can’t shake. 
There’s a pop culture sort of bimboism in a real hyped-up American sense that comes across in your work, does it feel like a mythologising of American pop culture?
While that’s an interesting take, it’s less of mythology and more so my own context with being absolutely mesmerised by American Bimbo culture my whole life. Bimbos are the rich texture in the framework of our recent history and should be respected more than they are. There’s something in the way they’re always effortlessly iconic – that takes a very smart person.
Is there a work that you think deserves a little more attention, or perhaps has a story you would like to share a bit about?
There should be more drag shows at art openings! And tip your queens! Their presence is the present.
What are your New Year's resolutions, both in relation to your work and career and more personally as well?
I’d love to stretch more and eat more green peas. Make more time for little getaways with friends & ask my man on more dates. As far as my work, I’d like to make fewer paintings, but better paintings.
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