Miami artist Didi Rok rolls with femme street art
Didi's style is decidedly feminine – exotic fairy-like women with flowing hair and flowers and waves trailing in their perfumed wake. She has a studio on top of a popular bakery in Little Havana and has been working non-stop painting murals for restaurants, the Miami Book Fair, and music festivals. By Sandra Schulman 07/22/2020
Didi Contreras painting a mural in Little Haiti (Photo Alessandro Abate, courtesy of the artist) Ever since painting her first wall mural, Diana Contreras, known by her street name Didi Rok, has been hooked. Born in Peru, she made her way to the US and Miami when she was just 5. With the bright, neon colors of Peru etched in her psyche, she also took a shine to the bright colors of the Miami tropics, the Art Deco buildings, and the rainbow of people here.
“I liked art school because after teaching some of the basics they said ‘Just do what you want!’ That really appealed to me so I started teaching art as a career after getting my degree at FIU but felt I needed another outlet for myself. I saw people starting to paint murals and I realized that’s a great way to get my work out there.”
Her first mural was technically illegal – not that art is ever illegal – but then the next one she made by request of the building owner in Little Havana got her lots of attention. She learned by watching friends and getting tips for gridding and outlining such a large space. Her style is decidedly feminine – exotic fairy-like women with flowing hair and flowers and waves trailing in their perfumed wake. The first mural took her 2 weeks with one assistant. And who are these girls?
“I always loved dolls and dressing up when I was little and now I have a little girl that I dress up. I love fashion and Disney Princesses. I just take my cues from that and then add in my own inspiration,” she says.
Artist Didi Contreras and her spray paints in her studio (Photo Sandra Schulman)
Once the mural was done it gave her career a big boost. “Of course I tagged it and was flooded with requests and Instagram tags, that was really exciting.”
She has a studio on top of a popular bakery in Little Havana, the hallway lined with her colorful work. One striking series is of portraits of her students – all innocence and flowers in their hair. A large mural of three bonita chicas – one of them smoking a Cuban cigar – marks the Eighth Street entrance. One girl has a Cuban flag hair bow, a beautiful Black girl has Fuschia pink hair, and a redhead Latin holds a citrus print fan.
Artist Didi Contreras displaying her recent art. (Photo Sandra Schulman)Didi Rok has been working non-stop painting murals for restaurants, the Miami Book Fair, music festivals, and a really big score – for Warner Brothers Pictures for the premiere of the blockbuster film “Suicide Squad.”
“It all started when Amanda Valdes and I were lucky enough to get the attention of the film’s PR team,” she says. “It was a complete surprise to get that email! We’ve collaborated on murals in the past, so when they mentioned they wanted us to work together on a Suicide Squad-inspired mural, we started brainstorming right away. I knew, though it was hot in Miami and I was 6 months pregnant, that the piece was going to be a perfect fit for us. Amanda and I dove right into the project full force. We read up on the characters, watched all the trailers, listened to the soundtrack, and started sketching. Amanda and I typically reference women as our subject matter, so including male characters allowed us to really do something different.
They mixed classic comic book elements from the film into the mural by incorporating wheat-pasted posters into the piece. The mixed media feel seemed to fit into the urban landscape of Wynwood. The mural was up for over a year until someone painted over it without permission, enraging the building owner. But such is the nature of street art.
Didi Contreras painting a mural at House of Llull Atelier in 2013. The mural still exists there. (Courtesy photo)
Contreras’s primary medium is oil when she paints on canvas, but as the wall cabinet of spray paint in her studio attests, that’s her choice when doing murals. An outline is drawn with black, then large areas filled in with a roller. Details are done by hand with different size brushes.
She has a solo show coming up in October, though a big show in Dubai was canceled due to the pandemic. But with two toddlers, she has her hands full. “My kids love art, and my husband comes and helps with my murals, so I have lots of support. We go to the mural fests together so they can see life outside Miami.” —
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