Locust Projects Spring Fling 2014 Primary Projects presents "Christina Pettersson: The Castle Dismal"

An Interview with Tatiana Suarez

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Tell us a bit on how you got started in your career.

It goes back to school, I guess. I always had a passion for painting and art but then, when I was in college, I focused more towards graphic design. I realized I could not really do both. It was difficult to graduate in both majors. It would take me forever so I put art to the side and focused on design. I graduated and worked in advertising for a couple of years and then I realized I was kind of miserable. I was living with my mom at the time so I was able to save enough money to quit and focus on my art. I have been doing that since 2008. Really glad I did. That’s kind of how I got started.

Please share some career highlights with us.

Some highlights of my career have been getting into mural painting. My first one was in 2009. A lot of my graffiti writer friends were always encouraging me to take my stuff out to the streets and I finally did. I was really nervous. A blank canvas is already intimidating for me so a blank wall was even more so.

What’s the hardest about painting a mural?

To me, the scale and being in public. It’s not my favorite thing. I still prefer to paint in the privacy of my studio. You are vulnerable. People see your progress and the mistakes. I kind of get uncomfortable and it is really hard to cover up. I feel like, don’t look at me, don’t look at me. It’s stressful because you always have an audience. It’s something you have to get used to. Also, it’s different materials. I am still getting comfortable with the spray cans. I am still trying to figure out my technique when it comes to murals.

You have been doing a lot of mermaids lately. Is that a particular passion of yours?

I have always been inspired by Disney. I have always liked the little mermaid. It is one of my favorite cartoons. When I started painting the girls in high school I had a fascination with the fantastical. Fairies and mermaids. The whole mermaid mural thing lately though, I think it happened while I was living in New York. That was my way of feeling nostalgic of Miami. The ocean and stuff like that. It is just like a fluid figure for a while. It seems appropriate for Miami. It is funny that I never really considered that but now people are like, oh, do you want to paint a mermaid? I am kind of falling into the category of mermaid painters. It’s funny.

Are you from Miami?


What do you love most about this city?

The ocean. That was the one thing I missed when I was gone. We live really far away from the ocean right now but we try. It’s therapy. Going out there and that’s our back yard and being able to relax and take that all in.

You had moved to New York. Why did you come back?

We were homesick. We did not ever mean to leave Miami permanently. Miami is always home but we wanted to experience living outside of this city for a little bit. The weather was a big factor. The lifestyle in New York was just too difficult.

Did you get to do any work in New York?

I did a couple of murals. I was working hard but most of the time it was for shows in California and Miami. It wasn’t until towards the end of my stay in New York that I started exhibiting there. I exhibited in a small gallery space called “My Plastic Heart.” That’s what sucks, because I just started to meet a bunch of artists. It was sad that I was leaving just as I started building relationships with them.

What was the experience like being in the New York art scene vs. Miami?

I wouldn’t really know because I am a homebody. I wouldn’t get out much. The one thing I did notice was that a lot of the art work I loved and a lot of the artists I am a fan of would exhibit there, where in Miami, you only see them during Basel time. It was always cool to attend an opening and meet them because they were going to be there.

Which artists’ work do you really like?

There is so many. When it comes to street muralists, I love Miss Van’s work. I love her canvas gallery work and her murals. I love Glenn Brown. I like the color palettes of different artists. Right now I like Eric Jones. There are just so many.

Your work always has a central female figure. Has your work always had that focus?

Yes, for the most part. It has always kind of been women or animal based. In my work, I always try to tie in females with nature. I remember in school I was always fascinated by drawing animals. I would always draw cheetahs and tigers and birds. Then it became women.

Why do you relate women and nature? Was that a conscious decision or did that just happen more randomly?

I guess it was just something that happened but it ties into Mother Nature.

Who inspires the women you paint?

She is someone that kind of just came up. People always ask if it is a self-portrait but they are not meant to be. My more recent work, it depends on the meaning and what I am going through. Maybe I put something of myself in the work but the figure is not necessarily me but the message or the symbolism is.

So are they all basically the same woman?

I never really thought about it that way. They are not supposed to be. They look the same and that’s something I want to work on more and use actual models as my reference.

Do you invent background stories or narratives for the women?

It’s funny because each piece is inspired by something super random. It could be a lyric in a song or a quote in a movie. I am really into folklore and mythology, especially from Latin America, Mexico and South America. If it is just a little tale that I heard or read somewhere, I like to base the piece off of that but I let the viewer interpret it themselves. They do come up to me and ask me and some of them do have a back story. It depends.

Where do you see yourself and your art going at this point?

I don’t know. I am excited. I kind of have a little time off because last year was a crazy one with deadlines. I am looking forward to just be experimenting and see where it goes from here. I always stay figurative for the most part.

What is your favorite medium?

The oil paint.

What features of the oil paint are you drawn to?

I love to blend and render and oil paint is just super creamy. It’s my favorite medium. It allows itself to get smooth and blend and it is forgiving and it smells nice. It reminds me of school.

You did a shoe collaboration with Reebok. How did that come about?

I actually met Wayne, who is the artist who represented the New York shoe during Art Basel during my first mural in 2009. A flamingo that is still kind of surviving. She has gotten vandalized a little. I met him and Stash was the one who curated the whole project. He passed my information to Stash and Stash told him to invite me. They needed an artist to represent Miami and they chose me and I was super honored. I was the only female on the project, which was cool, too.

You really incorporated Miami with the gators and the dominoes.

That was the project. All the artists had to do a canvas with your style representing your city. I did the gator. They did not want it to be too feminine, which is a weird request because my work is feminine. Every time I do incorporate animals like reptiles and mammals in my work I try to keep it less cute. I use the grouser animals that people don’t like. I tried to keep it as unfeminine as I could. It was cool. Then they just took the pieces and put them on the shoes. It was a long process.

Are you planning to do any similar projects in the future?

I hope. If I get contacted for something like that again I would love to do another shoe. It broke my heart that they did not do the female shoes so I really hope to get together with them in the future and do a female shoe.

Are you with any gallery right now?

I do not really have any representation. I show a lot. In San Francisco I show with Spoke Art. In Miami not yet. The idea of being represented right now is like getting tied down. I am not ready. Especially in Miami. I am from here so I like to participate in as many shows as I can. I don’t really want to feel tied down. Maybe if the right gallery came along.

Do you have any upcoming exhibitions?

I will be in an exhibition at Known Gallery in Los Angeles. It is going to be a three person show. I still don’t have a date.

How can people purchase your art?

My website has a shop that I need to update and I am working on getting a newsletter set up so people can keep posted.

What’s your favorite book?

One of my favorite books I have ever read is “Invisible Monster” by Chuck Palahniuk. I also love “Fight Club.” I am trying to get into the habit of listening to more audio books while I paint. I like to work with movies on in the background. I could listen to music but at some point I get stressed out when the song changes. I like to have TV or a movie as background. It is usually movies I have watched a million times so I don’t get distracted. I can quote movies.

Which ones?

Like “Pulp Fiction” and lately it has been “Shaun of the Dead” a lot.

You have a prominent tattoo on your arm. Can you tell us a bit about it?

It is the artist Alphonse Mucha. He is one of my favorite artists and a big inspiration. He is from the 1890s. Very art nouveau stuff. He was a big inspiration when I started painting, especially the way he paints women and their figures and his color palette. He does a lot of seasonal series. I went to Paris and I went to the Louvre and I bought one of his books and came to my tattoo artist here and he did it. We are adding as we go along.

You mentioned artist’s color palettes twice. How important is a distinct color palette to your work?

That’s another thing that sparks inspiration in pieces I have come across like a photograph. If I like the colors, I will try to incorporate that into my piece. Color is important. It changes a lot though. I don’t really have an idea when I start a piece unless something inspires me. The color palette changes as the piece goes by. That’s another struggle with the murals. You have to have more of an idea of the colors cause it is not as easy to change. It is still not super comfortable for me.

What’s the best advice your parents ever gave you?

I am super grateful that my parents have supported me and continue to so. My dad used to paint and he never pursued it. They let me follow my dreams. They never pushed me to do something I did not want to do so I guess the advice is to do what I love and continue to do it and be happy doing it.

Do you have any other news you would like to share?

I am involved in a project at the Marine Stadium in Key Biscayne . It is called Friends of the Miami Marine Stadium. They are doing this project to preserve the stadium and fix it and open it up again for business. The city has been wanting to tear it down. They are getting artists to come down, both local and from all over, and we are painting murals there and documenting it and we will release prints and the benefits will go to the stadium. For more info check out