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Tatiana Suarez's works remind us a bit of the doe-eyed kids painted by San Francisco artist Walter Keane. But while Keane painted eyes with a sort of vacant yet menacing look, the pupils of Suarez's subjects twinkle with femininity and emotion — something she doesn't apologize for.
"I'm just inspired by women," the 30-year-old Miami native admits. "I think women are beautiful. They are always adorned with something from nature, and it goes back to Mother Nature and stuff like that."
The inspiration for her work goes beyond the XX chromosome. She also takes cues from her heritage. "I've been inspired a lot from my background — my mom is Brazilian and my dad is from El Salvador. It's the natural mythology and folklore from these cultures — primarily my Brazilian background — that I'm getting inspiration from, whether it's the face paint or how they are adorned."
Shortly after graduating from the University of Miami with a bachelor of fine arts in graphic design and illustration, Suarez worked at an advertising agency. Then she figured painting was her future. "I have loved art since I was in elementary school and throughout high school," she says.
It was around 2009 when Suarez took her work to the streets. It's an unusual trajectory for an artist — most begin as street artists and graduate to showing work in a gallery.
Though she still creates murals, including one for the Downtown Hollywood Mural Project, she doesn't hesitate to say which kind of work she prefers. "I definitely prefer my gallery work," she laughs. "When I'm at work on [gallery pieces], I'm in the privacy of my own studio. I'm still not comfortable painting in the streets and having an audience witness my mistakes. It gets me nervous, plus the extreme conditions here — you're on a ladder, it's hot. Then there is the nature of the street: You can't get attached to it — it will get vandalized."
Still, Suarez realizes she can inspire other women to join the male-dominated street art culture.
"I met a group of girls during Basel, and I was part of this crew for a while called Few and Far, a bunch of women. The girl who started it, Mimi, is a graffiti writer, and she wanted to get a group of women together because it's a male-dominated culture. I'm totally for inspiring girls to do this because it's a great outlet."
And while Suarez admits she has heard stories of women graffiti artists being harassed by male crews, she hasn't experienced any of that herself. "I'm not a graffiti artist; I didn't start out doing this," she says. "I haven't had to deal with any negativity or comments. If anything, the guys have been supportive."
The guys who support her include MSG Cartel's Quake, who went to high school with Suarez and later encouraged her to take her artistry to the public realm.
"When you're a girl painting girls, naturally you get stupid comments from males. They also call you out for using brushes and not spray cans, but for the most part, you get positive feedback."