Updated: Feb 8
Our Editor-in-Chief, Micaela Merryman, had the privilege of speaking to American visual artist and YouTuber Shayna Klee about her experiences living as an artist in Paris, personal creative processes, and opinions on identity in the art world.
It is 6 o’clock in the morning on the West Coast when I receive a call from Shayna Klee. In Paris, France, where the eclectic creator resides full-time, it is two in the afternoon. Over the phone, I hear wind whistling past the receiver and the muffled sounds of Parisian street life.
“Sorry,” she apologizes breathlessly, “I’m on the way to the post office, if I sound crazy right now.”
If Shayna Klee is not a familiar name, The Purple Palace might be. When she is not busy organizing all female art exhibitions at stately convents in the heart of Paris, or writing a successful, self-titled poetry book, or producing music, or creating art–she vlogs. Her YouTube channel hosts a loyal following of almost 300,000 people, of which I am one. Of all of Shayna’s great qualities that make her an easy YouTube binge, her commitment to unapologetic self expression is what inspired me the most. I was fortunate enough to pick Shayna’s brain for a few minutes over the phone. This is what happened.
You are so vulnerable and transparent about your life online. I was wondering if that experience has changed for you as you’ve gained more subscribers? Cuz I’m assuming that the idea of being vulnerable to more and more people might be intimidating? But I’m not sure how that feels for you.
Right. It’s actually, funnily enough, it’s the opposite effect? I feel like? When I first started my channel…when I look back at my old videos, I feel like they’re more performative in a way. I always thought I had to be happy on camera, and that I had to show the best parts of my life. But when I look back at my old videos, sometimes I’m like…cringing a little bit. I see maybe I was a little more afraid to show vulnerability. But then, when I went through a couple of difficult life situations I just felt like I couldn’t pretend to be happy, you know what I mean? I couldn’t pretend to be that for the camera. So it was either I open up about my struggles or don’t post anything at all. I had posted one video when I was going through heartbreak stuff, and people resonated with it and I think it encouraged me to continue sharing because people were so supportive.
I remember watching the video you’re referring to and being just astonished by how transparent you were being, that video came to me at the absolute perfect time. I’m glad to know that part of you won’t be going away anytime soon. How do you though, save parts of yourself for your creations and how else does that vulnerability translate there?
I think when you’re doing music or you’re writing, it is a lot more personal and it takes more time to really flush out what you’re thinking. When you’re writing you’re alone and it’s not like filming a video, where I can compare it to talking to one of my really good friends or my sister. And even though I love my friends and my sister, there are still some things I want to keep personal and private. And with writing, you can take the time to really flush it out and put an artistic spin on it. I don’t know…It’s all sort of interconnected, these things. They all see each other and inspire each other.
I know a big thing you push in all of your content is to make art and take up space, and I love how you have applied that to being a multidisciplinary artist. I know, specifically in the artistic space, people prefer to specialize. I am a poet, I write poetry. I am a sculptor, I work with ceramics– you know? Were there any resources or things that helped you transition and have enough courage to try other art forms?
Well I feel like it's always good to have a list of people you look up to who were successful in the things you wanna do. I know a big one for me is David Bowie. I feel like, yeah, he was a pioneer in music–but also fashion! I feel like he was like an artist with a capital A, with everything he did. And I feel like so often as creatives we want to define ourselves by the medium that we use, it's what we were validated for in the past. But it is absolutely possible to create a body of work in many different forms if that is what you’re interested in, you know, to bring it all together. I think one thing that was really important was when I was growing up I was in theatre a lot. You know theatre, obviously, varies sets, and props, and the make believe–all of that was really inspiring to me.
Do you find the lines blurred at all between simultaneously being an artist and being what is technically considered a “social media influencer”?
Yeah I feel like it relates to what I was talking about before, we want to put ourselves into these boxes of like, “Youtuber” or “Artist” to make us a lot more digestible. And at first, going into YouTube one of my biggest fears was that it would take away from my artistic identity and people wouldn’t take me as seriously. Which I think is a valid concern; people want to be able to define you so that they can figure out who you are. I feel like in that respect the lines are unblurred because I decided not to label myself.
How has your art changed since moving to France? Why do you think that shift occurred, if there was a shift in your style at all?
Funnily enough I didn’t really start doing art until I moved to France, I started out as a Creative Writing and Theatre major and then I was just doing paintings and things for fun–but I didn’t really start getting into contemporary art until I moved here. Because like, I was just having so much fun on the weekends going to Goodwill and other thrift shops and getting random things that I needed and I would collect…a bottle of milk or old pizza boxes and try to make sculptures out of them. So I got the courage to go back to art school. I did like a preparatory year, and that was actually when I started finding my style. I really found myself as an artist in France–I think that’s why I’m so attached to this country. I really came into my own here.
What advice do you have for artists who have yet to put their art out into the world but want to? What steps did you take as an artist to really empower yourself to do that?
I think the biggest thing I would say is…You don’t have to be at a certain high level of your craft to start putting things out there or trying things. I feel like, so often, we have this mentality of, Oh if I put it out and it's not good enough it’s not worth anything, people won’t think I’m not good enough. When in reality, if you fall in love with the process and keep putting out work even if you don’t perceive it as “good” yet–eventually you’ll get to a point you’re really satisfied with. For example, I just started producing music. If I waited for what I thought was the most perfect version to come out…You know a lot of these things I’m writing about are important now, that time will pass. I say, use the tools you have now to create something. And, we have this idea of art being good based on an aesthetic standpoint– but no matter the point of view it can’t be bad because it’s completely unique. So, stop being so hard on yourself and start now. That’s what I would say.