Shelby Slayden was born in Miami, Florida in 1998. She graduated from Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in 2020 with a BFA in General Fine Arts and a concentration in Illustration. Slayden’s work explores the themes of tropical nature, childhood, and the sentience of the natural world. She is often inspired by her home and upbringing in Miami, as well as bright colors and fluid forms. Slayden works in a variety of mediums, from drawing and painting to fashion design and rug tufting. Slayden has been designing clothing for eight years, and has shown her work in Baltimore and Miami. She has exhibited work at MICA’s Hueman Benefit Fashion Show, and MICA’s 25th Anniversary Authenticity Benefit Fashion Show. Her work was featured in Baltimore Style Magazine in 2018. Her January 2020 exhibition PARADISE featured work from her cumulative degree project, ranging from an installation of painted furniture to large machine tufted rugs. As well, work from her most recent fashion line SUNBURN is featured here in a website version of MICA's annual Multi Media Fashion Event, which was translated to a digital platform due to COVID-19.
Can paradise and chaos exist at once? This question has fueled my practice, which explores how these ideals interplay within the natural world. Patterns repeat as tropical beaches are washed away by storms, or as living things struggle to survive. Nature’s ability to nurture life, yet also unpredictably cause destruction has consumed my work. I portray the natural world as sentient and often vengeful towards those who populate it. Anthropomorphized landscapes, teeming with flora and fauna weave their way through all of my work. These flourishing worlds are usually devoid of humans, either abandoned or untouched.
The interplay of chaos and beauty within my “paradises” also provides an avenue for me to channel my inner anxieties into. Each world is populated with recurring characters. Several have names, such as Cesar, who has weaved his way into my work for several years. Others have less defined personalities, and simply serve as emotional indicators within a piece. I tend to create caricatures of myself, as these characters echo my inner dialogue. Their emotions vary from ecstatic joy to panic, but are never calm. Incorporating these characters into my visual narrative allows me to personalize the worlds I create.
I am also heavily influenced by my home and childhood in Miami, Florida. Most of the wildlife I depict is tropical in origin, connecting me to my home. I am fascinated with reptiles and amphibians, which can be found throughout my work as a constant motif. Ferns, palm trees, suns, stars, and fish are also commonly featured within my work. My childhood in Miami was largely spent outdoors, where I often would catch lizards, fish, and other animals. Depicting these living things within my art connects me to my home nostalgically and provides a sense of comfort from a distance.
My work spans many mediums, ranging from fashion design and rug tufting to painting, rug tufting, illustration, and paper cutting. However, despite this large range of physical materials, all of my work resides in the same world. The repetition of patterns, motifs, and bright colors connect each body of work regardless of materiality. I find myself to be consistently attracted to tedious practices, such as paper cutting or felt appliqué. Though long and arduous, these processes are incredibly rewarding, as they allow me to form a personal, meditative connection to each piece I create.