Coffee With Aubrie Costello

Installation and silk graffiti artist Aubrie Costello uses words to create art that moves: both physically and emotionally. Her designs are inspired by the people of Philadelphia and the words they use in their everyday lives. Here is her story.

I attended Moore College of Art & Design where I began completing installation work that correlated with my sketches. I shared a studio in North Philadelphia with Darla Jackson, a fellow Philadelphian artist, and it was incredible, but I eventually got to a point where I realized I didn’t like the studio setting. Instead of working I would just be writing down and listening to the conversations outside my window. This is where it all started.

One night I took strands of silk, a hammer, and some nails and tagged the walls with some words from my notebook in silk right outside my studio. It felt great! It wasn’t heavy.  It was quite literally this light way of talking about the same heavier topics like gender roles and socio-economic injustices. I was just writing on the wall – not a traditional graffiti way of doing the work. 

Philadelphia loves art and its artists, but it can be difficult to be a working artist. Most artists I know wear many hats. I have a day job although I’d rather put my full energy into this. 

Working at The Bus Stop Boutique has been amazing because my boss is also collaborator/ mentor/ friend. She is one of my biggest cheerleaders and she pushes me. I’ve even had the opportunity to collaborate with shoe brands because of her. What’s really invaluable is that there’s this common thread between my work and fashion. When I go to trade shows I’ll see cool color patterns and juxtapositions that inspire my work. 

The words and phrases used in my art are about 75 percent overheard from people on the street. I take their meaning then reinterpret it with silk. Silk has an emotional feel to it – almost a sadness. It’s interesting to play with other people’s words. I love playing with my own words, but sometimes I’m more excited to play with other people’s words.

I’ve always been concerned with reflecting the times. I’m more present and I want to talk about what’s going on right now. If I put a piece up in the neighborhood I want it to resonate and speak to the people who would interact with that specific piece and perhaps pose a thoughtful question to the viewer. 

I have always loved how accessible street art is, but I was a little apprehensive myself to make a piece and put it up. I put so much pressure on myself for me to be good enough. I want mine to be effective and beautiful.

Because of this, people often ask, why silk? I loved the material so much – loved the fabric. One day, I had a fiber/textile teacher at Moore who came into my studio. She said, “You need to let the fabric speak for itself.” My work isn’t canvas or paper, so I need to let it show its weight, let it hang. That tiny conversation with her has stuck with me through this entire process. 

I start my studio days walking around, writing, and observing. I note down what strikes and inspires me. After returning to my studio I figure out color, pairing, and scale.

For the Fringe Arts Festival 2017, I collaborated on a short film, dance performance, and site-specific art piece “Show Me What You Want Me to See.”  It flowed so naturally. We started with one piece and went from there to finish with a total of 14. We pulled out keywords that we felt would be the most interesting. The original purpose of the pieces was for the film to be in the apartment. Then the pieces became the set. I love this especially in my work “The Relic in the Thing.”

The whole film plays with subtitles, and these jarring moments you experience in loss. I wanted some to be fleshy quiet, some to interject that blood red – I wanted to showcase the dynamic emotional rollercoaster of experiencing loss.

Thanks to Conrad Benner, founder of Streets Dept, people connected the dots with the work and the artist who made it. I have a lot to thank him for. But Instagram has also been instrumental in this as well. I have been given a lot of opportunities for collaboration and to have a creative outlet. I can also use it to make merchandise or partner with other artists and businesses. 

I have also recently exhibited at Main Line Arts Center.  Happily Ever After was a selection of works by female artists. The exhibition is from post-feminist perspective in what it means to be a woman in modern times. We are questioning womanhood and gender.

The exhibit opened on October 13, 2017.  I was really excited about this collaboration because it allows me to add more depth to my art in a way. I want to do more of this, although street art will always be my first love. 

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