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Women Making History: Pebbles Russell aka Pebbles van Peebles

Photo by King Texas

If you spend any time in the NY downtown/art/party scene then you’ve probable seen or met Pebbles Russell a/k/a Pebbles van Peebles.  Part downtown party girl, part artist, and part art curator, Pebbles hasn’t found a project that she can’t undertake.  Her style and personality have brought her face and work to the pages of Vice Magazine, Underrated Magazine, Wadklub Magazine and Status Magazine. She has shown her own art in New York as well as worked for the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and the BMW Guggenheim Lab.  In late 2011 she curated two exhibits in her “Boys I Know” group show series and co-curated Something I Ate in early 2012.  In January 2012, Pebbles Russell and Jonathan Neville launched the Centre-fuge Public Art Project which you can still see today at First Street and First Avenue.

Photos by (left) Jon Neville (right) Ev Ryan

What woman, besides your mom or grandmother, do you find inspirational?

 There are so many women in my life who inspire me all the time. Many of them I graciously count as friends and in almost a decade in New York, they have given me the mental wherewithal to never stop moving and growing – plus, we kind of have a whole lot of fun. Through work ethic, style, strength through the shittiest parts of life, creativity, humor, grace and the ability to always keep it real with a sense of perspective and history, one of these ladies just never stops amazing and amusing me. Ms. Kerin Rose, of the always ahead of the pack a-morir, always makes me want to do more, be more, reach more people with my ideas and stay looking as fly as possible all the while. Watching Kerin’s business grow with her as a designer and as a person has been such a joy, because, as anyone who knows her glittery wonderfulness can attest, she is the hardest working babe and always stays true to who she is – in collaborations, in designs and in life. To me, that is the most inspirational – doing you, no matter what AND kicking ass and always getting better. She is the Red Top to my Pretty Baby.

You studied photography in college.  How did your interest in photography come about?

I was always a photo junky. My incessant obsession with popular culture, initially contemporary, and then vintage aesthetic moments, fueled my need to constantly surround myself with images. I always plastered the walls of my room with the icons of whatever interested me most: from the Spice Girls to Janis Joplin, Stella McCartney ads to James Dean smoking a butt, Guns N Roses to Nirvana, to an inexplicable fascination with Kid Rock, and eventually one whole wall of Vogue covers, Madonna looks, odes to Eloise and an original Woodstock poster - I searched out what I wanted.

A tactile love of family snapshots has also always fueled my love of images and the act of creating them. As a kid at my parents’ house in Virginia, we had a sideboard by the front door where my parents kept every family photo taken since about 1930. My desire to thumb through the style cues of most of the past century was spurred on additionally by my dad’s over zealous camera hobby. His bulk of knowledge and equipment, not to mention a library of more gorgeous nature photographs than any biology text book or Nat Geo adventurer could shake a stick at, gave me the confidence to make my own images and the desire to understand the mechanics of image making.

(left) “Dopeshow” (right) “Vincent” - both by Pebbles Russell

What other media do you work in?  Did photography come first?

I actually have never been one for painting, but my decoupage work started with homemade mix CD covers for my friends in middle school, thanks in big part to the consistently amazing art teachers I always had. My decoupage grew alongside my pursuit of photography and continued throughout and after college. My interest in and practice of drawing started with figure drawing to relax and challenge myself and is still something I take so much joy in.

Photography “Claire” by Pebbles Russell

In 2011 you curated a show called “Boys I Know” – how did this project come about?

 I’ve been surrounded by art, specifically in big museums, since I was born. My mother has worked at the National Gallery for over 30 years and my perennial exposure to art institutions never seemed like anything more than a fact of my life. Only after being exposed to parts of the contemporary art world here in New York over the past 8 years, and meeting so many people who make art - for a living, for fun, for protest, for work, for themselves - did I notice what huge gaps in relevant, respectable, visible art outlets really existed. Or at least were hard to find and underexposed. Of course, I came to find out there were a handful of like-minded people trying to change just that.

I wanted to put on a show with the work of my friends. So many of them made such great art and no one even knew about it. I got together a group of artists, all of whom I met in different ways, working in all different media. When trying to figure out what such a diverse group had in common, I realized they were all just “Boys I Know.” The focus on the act of creating, and the humble wonderfulness of making work drove me to design and create the logo and all promotional materials by hand, with much help of my favorite boy- my partner in art, love and crime, Jon Neville.

Photography “Steve” by Pebbles Russell

Later in the year you curated “Boys I Know 2” – are there plans to make this an ongoing event?

Boys I Know has taken on a life of it’s own since that first show at Rouge 58. Jon and I have turned Boys I Know into an alternative art and event series. We had the second Boys I Know at culturefix followed by a collaboration with Something I Ate, curating the artists for their last New York event earlier this year. We have the third Boys I Know opening August 2nd at 80 Nassau Street. It is an intimate, salon/loft venue and the programming we have slated there through the end of 2012 will include group shows, site-specific installation pieces, live music and some other exciting surprises.

Centre-Fuge Public Art Project - Cycle I Artists: Pebbles Russell, Osvaldo Chance Jimenez, Samuel Jojo Ashford, Matt McCormick, Optimo NYC, and Dr. Whomis

Earlier this year you launched the Centre-Fuge Public Art Project in the Lower East Side.  What inspired this project?  Any plans to continue next year at a different location?

 Jon and I live in the Lower East Side where so much construction, particularly the gray office trailer that popped up on First Street last year, nearly screamed out for a make over. In January, just before the project was about to start, our friend and fellow Lower East Side art maker, Mike Hamm passed away unexpectedly. With the help of his friends and family, in New York and beyond, we dedicated the project to him. Mike’s joyful, inclusive and generous nature as a person and as an artist has become a real anchor of what Centre-fuge is all about. By making Centre-fuge a proposal based public art project, with support from the neighborhood, the DOT, local businesses and the broader artist community, we have tried to open up possibilities of creating, showing and appreciating art in New York. We have plans to continue facilitating public art in the city on transitional and underused spaces well into 2013.

Centre-Fuge Public Art Project - Cycle II Artists: Ben Angotti, Claw Money, Eiknarf, Julius Klein, Kenny Rodriguez, Maestro, and Yuri Velez

What’s your favorite piece that you’ve created?

I don’t think I’ve made it yet.

Do you prefer creating art or curating art?

It’s an ebb and flow – sometimes it’s one and sometimes it’s the other. The process and after affects are so different, and for me, creating is so much more personal than curating, that I’m glad to have both as active parts of my life.

Centre-Fuge Public Art Project - Cycle III Artists: Bishop203, CRAM Concepts, Danielle Mastrion, Fumero, Jade Fusco aka DMZL, and Michael DeNicola

Who do you want to work with?

I met Olek recently and her work, process and thoughts on expression and art on the street are so compelling. Jon and I would love to work with her. The personal aspect and global artist family is such a reward in all of this. It may sound cheesy but I want to work with great artists and interesting people who I don’t even know exist yet. I want to meet them and connect them and incite collaborations and confidence and inspiration.

What part of being an artist and curator is the most challenging and do you dislike the most?

 Like most projects that involve lots of people, offering up their time, skill and effort, the constant rigmarole of logistics and planning are always the hardest parts. But staying on top of those aspects, and letting them not get in the way of the wonderful, creative parts is a satisfying accomplishment in and of itself.

Any advice for ladies who are just starting out in a career path as an artist or curator?

Go with what you like and what you like doing. Trust yourself enough to go with a good idea, or try out a so-so one. But be humble enough to be open to collaborations, new ideas and changes of heart.

Boys I Know, Part III opens at Four Oh Three on Thursday August 2, from 7-10 PM and runs through August 13, 2012. If you can’t make it in August, Boys I Know has partnered with Four Oh Three for the remainder of 2012, programming art and music events there through December so you can still get a taste.

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