Art

Nina Surel: When Selfies become Art.

She is an explosive cocktail of Argentinean passion and Florida tropics, with an Italian cherry on top.

Photos and text by Luca Babini
Nina Surel

Nina Surel

Nina Surel’s studio sits on the other side of the tracks in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami. It’s in a large garage, part of a nondescript, low lying white building. Women and children lazily walk along the streets protecting themselves from the heat under big, colorful umbrellas. Across the street, outside a body shop, two men have an animated discussion in Creole about a broken hood ornament of a seventies Cadillac Eldorado. That was the same model car I bought when I first moved to the States twenty-five years ago. Except mine was yellow, hence the nickname: the lemon boat. The rear seat collapsed to the ground while I was driving along the LIE on a summer day. I was wearing a cap that said: father of the year. My first child was a few days old and I had bought the car because I had failed to find a safe way to carry him around on my motorcycle.

Nina Surel 0002

Inside Nina’s garage, her assistant Marcela is patiently applying hundreds of fake stones over the dress of a surreal photograph of a virgin. Nina waves her hands in the air like an orchestra conductor talking about the latest resins she found and some painting she saw in a small church somewhere in Italy. She is also a bit worried about having rented a place in Umbria for the summer on a whim. But, in the end, she explains, it’s all going to work.

Nina's Studio. Miami

Nina’s Studio. Miami

She is an explosive cocktail of Argentinean passion and Florida tropics, with an Italian cherry on top. But, unexpectedly, all this volcanic ebullience finds a place of rigor in her work. As if, at the core, the women in her self-portraits were bound by the responsibility of heroic actions. Interesting duality. I’ve met many artists in my life and, as humans, they usually fall under two main categories: selfish-arrogant or generous-humble. Nina belongs to the latter.

Nina Surel

Nina Surel

She is like a child in awe for the great opportunity of being able to support herself with her art. I timidly ask her about the resin she uses to ‘freeze’ her works, and she offers to come to New York to help and show me how it’s done. Nina’s world scares me a bit. It has that particular quality of fearless Latin American women: the Modotti, Kalo, Celia Sanchez and Cintròn… I have a plane to catch and so we part. As we drive away, the man in front of the body shop waves us away with the Cadillac ornament in his hand.

Nina Surel, Art

Nina Surel, Art

Nina Surel Interview

Tell me about the moment that you acknowledge being an artist, and you decided to pursue that mission for the rest of your life.
It was less than 10 years ago after a fire in my studio in South Beach. A short circuit caused by a tool that was lying in a very flammable plastic desk. Lost many commissions ready for delivery and at least 6 works in progress. By that time my work was inspired by women but not necessary my image (only body parts mixed with other familiar faces). Not sure about giving up I build my first self-portrait/alter ego with the only mission to rescue me. Called it Flora and that was for me the beginning.

Nina Surel Studio

Nina Surel Studio

Your art seems to be the convergence of different strong currents of inspiration. One is religion. What kind of a role does it play?
I grew up with my grandparents. Church was mandatory. I was fascinated by the stories of Saints like St Catherine of Siena, her mythical visions and the stigmata wounds.

Nina Surel - Nocturnal

Nina Surel – Nocturnal

Why the self-portraits?
It is therapeutic. Performing is the best way for me to idealize a certain episode in my life. I become the object and the subject of my transformation and I live it to the fullest.

Nina Surel, Hole in the Tree

Nina Surel, Hole in the Tree

Can you define the difference between the way you ‘dream’ of yourself in your paintings and the way you see yourself in real life?
I look more like Diana Prince in real life and when I see one of my alter egos I see a Super Woman.

Nina Surel: madonnas and Child

Nina Surel: Madonnas and Child

There is a sense of ‘sublimation of female sexuality’ in your work. Almost as if you wanted to elevate your female figures above any form of eroticism. They transpire more sainthood and serenity. Is that a conscious decision?
The Catholic Church teaches that it does not make or create saints, but rather, recognizes them. I hope is un- conscious because I still want to go to heaven!

 

Nina Surel: Fiorella

Nina Surel: Fiorella

Aside from yourself, if you had to choose a woman in history that you would like to portray, who would it be?
Joan of Arc
Name the place, the painting, the text and the music that have inspired you the most in your work.
The place: Patagonia-Argentina. The painting: Ophelia.  The text: “There were always in me, two women at least, one woman desperate and bewildered, who felt she was drowning and another who would leap into a scene, as upon a stage, conceal her true emotions …” Anais Nin The music: Goldfrapp

What are the stupidest and smartest comments you’ve had about your work?
The stupidest: “Now you’re talking!
(A male Collector, by the time I started to show more skin in my paintings)

The smartest: “I’ve been always attracted by the surface of your paintings but now I want to eat them like candy. Do you want to work with me?”
(A gallerist, by the time he saw “Flora” at an Art Fair)

Nina Surel, Studio

Nina Surel, Studio

You live in Miami, a city that could not be more different from your art; do you see that as a limitation or a stimulus?
I always find a sense of stimulus in limitation.

Has having children changed your work? And, if yes, how?
Yes.The young impeccable doll-like girl that used to float in my paintings before having my first baby became an adolescent girl and later when my daughter was born, became a grown up woman. The transformation to adulthood took place and suddenly those neat and tidy backgrounds with line divisions became unorganized, dark and spotted with color resembling blood, referring to the becoming of a woman.

Nina Surel - Studio

Nina Surel – Studio

Nina Surel - Studio

Nina Surel – Studio

2 Responses to “Nina Surel: When Selfies become Art.”

  1. Daniella says:

    Wonderful interview ofa great artiste

  2. luisa says:

    q bueno 1 me gustó eso de Umbria. belleza!