Arts & Entertainment

Colombian-born pop artist conveys dreams-over-money message

By Ivonne Malaver

Miami, Nov 24 (EFE).- Colombian-born Mayra Mateus has forged her own path in the Miami pop art scene through her piggy-bank character, which she has used to convey the importance of “saving dreams” and to provide hope to the many immigrants struggling with depression.

“I decided to create a ‘piggy bank’ … to represent my philosophy that dreams are more valuable than money. My idea is to have art with a purpose, art that can send a message,” the native of Cali, Colombia, told Efe.

Known professionally as Mateus Art, the 26-year-old will present her new “Guess Who?” collection next Wednesday at one of the events leading up to Art Basel Miami Beach, an art fair scheduled for the first week of December.

The collection features a series of 11 paintings in which the artist re-imagines that famed board game, populating it with famous people and characters including Frida Kahlo, The Beatles, Kobe Bryant, Marilyn Monroe, Garfield and Bart Simpson and adding a pig’s snout or ears to each one.

“I created my own character … so people feel connected and so I can inspire them in a certain sense with my story,” Mateus said, emphasizing the challenge of adding the nose without making the character look ugly.

She said she arrived in Miami at age 16 to reunite with her mother, who had emigrated earlier. The two shared a room and Mateus was forced to work three different jobs simultaneously – at a department store, a bakery and a pizzeria.

Her artistic spirit took flight at that latter place of employment when her wall painting of the restaurant’s menu became a big hit, prompting another pizzeria to hire her for the same work.

She recalled that art entered her life at a time when she did not know what to do or what to study. “I never imagined that doing a pizzeria’s menu would turn me into an artist … and I decided to study art (at Miami-Dade College) as a result of that.”

Besides encouraging people to pursue their dreams, Mateus also is seeking to change societal attitudes toward mental illness through her work.

“It’s OK to feel bad. Depression is not a myth. It’s completely normal and it’s important (for people) to communicate” what they feel, she said of the message conveyed by one of her earlier collections titled “I’m Fine.”

“A lot of us tend to say we’re fine when we’re really not,” she added.

On Nov. 10, Mateus visited a group of teenagers undergoing addiction treatment at the Principles Recovery Center in Davie, Florida, where she taught an art class and told the youths her story. “I felt very connected to them and they did to me as well,” the artist said.

Like many other young artists, Mateus launched her brand on Instagram, quickly attracting a following with her colorful designs on canvas, sculptures, cartoons and even lingerie and even receiving orders from companies such as Puma, Hugo Boss and Foot Locker.

Mateus typically begins her canvas designs by spray-painting the background and then drawing her piggy banks and adding acrylic colors at the end.

She says she admires artists who discover a formula and repeat it, like Brazilian neo-pop painter, serigrapher and sculptor Romero Britto.

“It’s a very difficult step to find your own identity artistically,” the Colombian said, adding that it took her nearly three years to identify her style and come up with the piggy bank character.

That differentiates an artist from a painter. A painter can paint whatever. An artist latches on to their own identity, and for me that’s priceless.” EFE


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