Kevin Sabo’s Fussy Divas Can’t Be Bothered

With subtle shade and drag-like flair, the Richmond up-and-comer lets his freak flag fly when painting contorted, slightly menacing women shrouded in plumes of cigarette smoke.

Here, we ask an artist to frame the essential details behind one of their latest works.

Bio: Kevin Sabo, 29, Richmond, VA (@kevin__sabo)

Title of work: No Smoking 1.

Where to see it: “Burn, Motherfucker, Burn” at TW Fine Art (256 Worth Ave, Suite 214, Palm Beach, FL) until April 8.

Three words to describe it: Prissy, icy, clownish.

What was on your mind at the time: Recently, I’ve been having fun painting fussy little divas in a small, sardine-like crowd, just existing. Designing their clothing, their hairstyles, and personas is endlessly enjoyable to me. I knew the prompt ahead of time; this piece is in a group show called “Burn, Motherfucker, Burn,” so initially my painting attempts were perhaps a little too literal. I originally decked out my ladies in flame-patterned clothing and painted the frame with flames surrounding the edges. But it was all wrong. Fire design was way too obvious and unexciting. I painted over all my initial ideas and then tried out just a small, subtle cigarette smoke motif. Just that simple nod to destruction felt more than enough to me, and I was hoping that the tiniest burn of a cigarette could pack a large punch in a group show setting. It began to feel really romantic and irresistible. 

An interesting feature that’s not immediately noticeable: I’d say the faces of these ladies are pretty fun to dive into. They might be unnoticeable from afar; the faces are probably smaller than a quarter, but I always have so much fun carving out their snarky, menacing personalities with my pencil. It’s that quick drawing element that sparks so much va-va-voom into what I love to do. I consider them my drag, and my drag currently exists only on canvas. 

How it reflects your practice as a whole: This painting is a great example of my current body of work. My goal when entering a blank canvas isn’t to reinvent the wheel or begin something that has never been done in my personal trajectory, but rather to sprinkle some individual steez and shades of niche flirtatiousness in each unique painting. Right now, I’m almost always depicting an empty color-world with a small sea of girly-trons doing their thing. I’m inventing characters, I’m playing hairstylist, I’m playing fashion designer, I’m playing drag queen. I do it to feed my soul and free myself from any masculine boxes that I’ve felt trapped inside. It almost never stops being fun.

One song that captures its essence: “Pamplemousse” by FKA Twigs.

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