The most valuable thing to be discovered in the Downtown Hollywood Mural Project, celebrating its first anniversary this weekend, is a rare and elusive quarry: serendipity.
While the most prominent of the nine murals that make up the series so far can be found around Young Circle, the project feels unbound by the formal designation of a “district.” Instead, they can pop into view when you least expect it, say, when you round a corner during an after-dinner downtown stroll. Surprise!
This is especially true of mural No. 10, now being applied to the wall in an unassuming alley next to 2020 Harrison St., a building being remodeled as ArtCenter 2020, a working-artists enclave several blocks from where the street meets the hotspots near the Circle. The piece, as yet untitled, will be a massive 112-by-15-foot girly fantasy world of six purple-tailed mermaids, distinguished by flowing hair and large, bottomless eyes that will stop you in your tracks.
The artist is Tatiana Suarez, a young University of Miami graduate (graphic design) who produces most of her work on canvas, typically doe-eyed, often topless women jeweled in wildlife (iguanas, sugar gliders and parrots are a familiar motif). The themes are a mash-up of influences on the Miami-born Suarez, who traces her roots to Brazil and El Salvador.
“As a kid I was very influenced by Disney. One of my first books was ‘How to Draw the Little Mermaid,’ ” says Suarez, whose right arm is tattooed with a work by Czech painter Alphonse Mucha. “In high school I began this fantastical narrative, it was all very Tim Burtonish. Always the big eyes.”
She and her illustrator-designer husband, David Iglesias, recently returned from several years living in Brooklyn, where her work found an unlikely champion, the New York graffiti artist Wane. That connection yielded a most unconventional format for her work, a street art-themed series of Reebok sneakers. Suarez’s shoe made its local debut at a party a couple of weeks ago at Cool J’s in Miami Gardens.
It was also in Brooklyn that she noticed her work began to develop an insistent tropical theme, and she knew it was time to come home. She says the Hollywood mural will convey her appreciation for the things she missed, especially the beach and the tropical colors of South Florida. She hopes the audience responds.
“I want to take them into this world,” she says. “It will be very colorful, and I hope that makes them feel happy. I hope they get lost in it.”
The Downtown Hollywood Mural Project, a vision of Jorge Camejo, executive director of the Hollywood Community Redevelopment Agency, will celebrate its first anniversary during the city’s monthly ArtWalk 7-10 p.m. on Saturday. Suarez, whose work will join that of muralists including LEBO, Jessy Nite, Eddie Mendieta, 2alas, Michelle Weinberg, Evoca1 and Rob Robi, will be painting live during ArtWalk.
Suarez began tracing her mural last Saturday and expects it will be more than a month before it is done. She is balancing this job with the task of creating 16 or so paintings for an October exhibition of her work at the Spoke Art gallery in San Francisco.
The project manager of the mural series, Jill Weisberg, is a working artist with curatorial experience at galleries and art spaces from Hollywood to Wynwood to Little Haiti. She’s also a Hollywood native who believes there is much left to be discovered in the city, both for local residents and artists all over South Florida.
“I love the authenticity,” says Weisberg, who points out that Harrison Street has a long history as a home for artists and galleries. “The fact that it’s developing slowly and intentionally in a way that will keep it to its roots is really wonderful.”
The mural project has gotten strong interest from downtown businesses, with many requests to connect walls with an artist, Weisberg says, while underscoring her sensitivity to the potential to over-saturate the area with murals: "This will never look like Wynwood, believe me."
Local residents also have expressed their appreciation for the distinctive energy the mural project gives downtown Hollywood, she says.
"It's got something for everyone," Weisberg says. "Each work is different. This mural may not resonate with you, but the one around the corner you love."
The project also has been a hit with muralists (Weisberg says there is a "small" stipend; materials are covered by a hodgepodge of benefactors, and sometimes artists buy some of their own paint), as has city itself.
“It’s a different kind of a thing than painting on the side of a boring warehouse. There’s foot traffic here, it’s safe here and, I hear all the time, people are freaking friendly here,” she says.
DOWNTOWN HOLLYWOOD ARTWALK
The monthly event is 7-10 p.m. Saturday and includes live music, dining specials, gallery exhibitions and, this month, live painting by Tatiana Suarez at 2020 Harrison St. Admission and street parking (three-hour intervals) are free. Info: 877-672-2468, VisitHollywoodFL.org. For information on the mural project, go to HollywoodCRA.org. For more on Suarez's work, go to TatiSuarez.com, and catch a profile of her on WPBT-Ch. 2’s “Art Loft” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.