You know that feeling of comfort you receive as soon as you walk into abuelita’s house and breathe in the forceful scent of Fabuloso right before you eye your cup of Café Bustelo beside a plate of María cookies? That’s the feel-good sensation that Central American artist Veronica Melendez wants to engender through her illustrations of popular Latino staples.
In 2016, the Salvadoran-Guatemalan photographer-illustrator created “Iconic,” an Andy Warhol-inspired pop art series featuring cartoon versions of all the branded goodies Latinos grew up devouring.
“I just felt like all these objects and things that I have a nostalgic connection with and speaks to me would also be something that other Latinos would relate to and admire,” Melendez, 28, told FIERCE.
Scrolling through the Washington, D.C.-based artist’s Instagram, is like walking into a bodega.
The colorful packaging of traditional Goya products grips your attention. Even if you’re stuffed, you get hungry — at least for a taste or a whiff of the delicacy your mother stirred up with these classic goods.
Melendez’s illustrations include products from different parts of Latin America. There’s Maseca instant corn masa, a fundamental ingredient for Salvadoran pupusas, Crema Guatemalteca, to make every plate better, Florecitas, colorful iced cookies from Puerto Rico, De La Rosa marzipan, a sweet almondy Mexican candy, Inca Kola, Peru’s signature soft drink, and La Estancia’s néctar de melocotón, a popular Cuban peach juice, among so many others.
In many ways, Melendez says, these products become a link to the country we left as children or a motherland we have never been to.
“Growing up in this country, so far away from your homeland, you use these products in your everyday life to be as close as you can to where your parents grew up. They’re a bridge connecting you to wherever your parents came from or where your homeland is,” she said.
Similarly, these goods connect Latinos to one another.
Regardless of the Latin American country we come from or the different ways we cook with these products, these branded staples are a shared moment, a ubiquitous memory and a language we all understand.
“It’s a relatable experience between us. Just knowing there’s other people like you that find importance in otherwise trivial grocery store products is nice,” Melendez said.
Hi, hello, thank you for taking a moment to take a seat at my Ted Talk!
I’d like to take the time we have together today to talk about the wonder that is Publix.
As many of you fortunate enough to live in the Southeast know, Publix is a Florida-based grocery store with all of the class.
They’re a place known for their remarkable customer service and clean aisles. At Publix, shopping is literally a pleasure.
That’s right folks, this is a place of impeccable cleanliness and organization.
At Publix, no corner is left unswept and no aisle left without the item you needed.
And their subs have been bringing people to tears circa 1930.
If you haven’t had an Italian sub from Publix what what WHAT are you doing?
Guys! This place is so good that schools literally send students there for field trips.
At Publix there’s so much to learn.
And their employees actually love working there!
And it’s probably because of their amazing benefits and vacation set up.
Recently a wave of Publix enthusiasts went viral for their devotion to the store’s key lime pie.
An article by Buzzfeed boasted about the desserts greatness. And they were right.null
But KEY to the Publix experience has been the grocery chain’s dedication to Latino satisfaction.
They literally have a STORE that focuses on Latinos called Sabor.
The Southeastern-based store has run a line of Publix Sabor stores for years geared toward Florida’s Cuban, Puerto Rican, and other Latino shoppers. Recently they started to expand its offerings in heavily populated Latino populations with a Publix store called Sabor.
This place is the diggs guys! And they have all kinds of amazing foods to offer.
Like their commitment to the Cubano.
Which for real will NEVER be good as your mother’s, but will always for real do everything to be top notch.
And their Tres Leches cake which is qualiT
And this is a fact that FOR REAL any Latino in the Southeast knows to be true.
No but for real.
It’s a taste like no other.
And beyond Tres Leche you can count on Publix to STAY stocked on your mama’s favorites.
Literally feels like home at the Publix in Little Havana guys.
And they for real have the hookup.
Yes they do.
Now go forth into the world my people and enjoy your limp meals at Whole Foods and Safeway!
Art is often the manifestation of our emotions. It manifests the artist’s intentions and projects them onto the audience. Though we don’t all experience art in the same way, the visceral reaction we have to an especially moving work of art is universal. Through the lens of its artist, art makes us hope, feel as well as heal. For Texas-based Mexican-American artist Shelbi Nicole, the desire to share these feelings with her audience is what drives her to create.
Named one of Houston’s Top Ten artists back in 2014, Nicole is a Texas transplant originally from Oklahoma City. Using bold color and shapes, it’s her goal to put feel-good vibes out into her community. Working in a mix of media but a painter at heart, Nicole’s work can be seen all over her adopted home. Whether it’s through murals, in private and public art collections or through her newest interactive art installation, this artist is committed to drama and whimsy.
Recently, FIERCE caught up with Nicole to talk about the intention behind her lively art and see her latest installation.
For Shelbi Nicole, art was an instinctive passion to pursue even from an early age.
In fact, the medium of painting became a therapeutic tool that helped the artist evolve into the woman she is.
“I have enjoyed creating since I was very young, which was when I discovered my love for painting,” Nicole told FIERCE. “I suffered from depression and found the benefits of painting to be extremely therapeutic. Painting has tremendously helped me combat depression and in a lot of ways been essential to my well being. Once I discovered the impact painting had on my life, I wanted to identify first and foremost as an artist.”
Drawn to abstract forms, Nicole traveled to France at 18 to study her craft. Exploring the numerous art museums Europe has to offer, she grew into herself as an artist. Her search to find her own voice as an artist took her to Miami. There, the vibrant colors of the South Florida Latinidad inspired her and made their way into her permanent color palette. Having found her signature style utilizing abstract shapes and vibrant colors, Nicole made her way to the University of Houston for her formal education.
“I think my constant exposure to so many different cultures has influenced my work,” Nicole explained. “Especially being back in Houston, the most diverse city in the U.S.”
Since then, Nicole has been a cornerstone of the local Houston art scene, literally leaving her mark all over the city.
Putting her skills as a mural artist to the test, Nicole beautifies the Houston Metro through her work with Mini Murals. Mini Murals is a multi-city project aimed at bringing color to unsuspected places utilizing electrical boxes as mural space. The pop of unexpected art that these pieces bring to local neighborhoods is completely on message for this dynamic artist. With her mix of abstract and geometric shapes and bold use of color, Nicole has contributed a dozen mini murals to Houston.
Aside from her many projects with her own design firm, Nicole has collaborated with everyone from local artists to big name corporations.
“The last two years of my life have been some of my most successful, thus far, with my art endeavors,” Nicole proudly shared. Last December, the artist teamed up with jewelry designer Kendra Scott to create the “Korridor.” Next to the Kendra Scott jewelry store in the posh community of Rice Village, the bright mural space is a combination of Nicole’s colorful sensibilities and Scott’s elegant forms.
Another such collaboration matched Nicole with the largest rodeo in the world. The tremendous Texas event — once headlined by Selena herself — is also an opprotunity to take in arts and culture. This year, the artist won the opprotunity to paint in her own style a 6-foot tall ceramic boot for the Rodeo’s Boot Row. Nicole is only one of six artists chosen to execute a design for this piece that lines the Rodeo’s entrance.
Still, perhaps one of Nicole’s biggest collabs have been with coffee giant Café Bustelo.
The Cuban coffee company established these pop-ups around the country for some time now. Not only do they bring their bold flavors, the pop-ups also invites emerging Latinx musicians and artists. For Nicole’s project, the people behind the iconic yellow can connected her with fellow Houston artist Gonzo247. At a Café Bustelo pop-up event in Houston’s art district, the two artists worked together to create a unique art piece to embody Latin flavor and culture.
While these accomplishments are impressive in their own right, the project that Nicole is most proud of has been five years in the making.
A larger-than-life visual funhouse, Nicole’s newest exhibit — Whimsy World — is a colorful, interactive fantasy world. The exhibit debuted in Houston during February of 2019. It opened to rave reviews as Houstonians explored Shelbi’s brilliant dreamscape.
“What inspired me to create Whimsy World was an intense desire to showcase my work in a solo show that was unconventional and much more interactive,” Nicole explained. “I’d lost interest in traditional art shows and the lack of color in most gallery settings. I wanted people to be able to feel like they’re inside of one of my paintings rather than just standing back and looking at a canvas.”
The multi-experience installation spans several rooms, each with its own touches of magic. From a hand-welded claw foot tub and in-door rain cloud dripping with hundreds of crystals to the abstract paintings spilling over the canvas and onto the studio walls, every inch is art. Even the bathrooms — with their fierce boss lady Beyoncé motif — are a spot worthy of Instagram.
For Nicole, Whimsy World is a culmination of her artistic voice and the joy she hopes her art creates in others.
“I want to encourage everyone to understand the endless possibilities there are, when it comes to how we experience art,” the artist confessed. “It can be a feeling, a moment, a world that you enter that brings joy and elicits feel-good vibes. That is the intention of The Whimsy World and I hope everyone can experience its magic.”
For Nicole, the future is as bright as the art she creates. An extended version of Whimsy World will be debuting in Sugarland, Texas March 15th-April 27th. The installation will include 8+ brand new fixtures. The Sugarland show will also feature a new main attraction — a mirrored art room hand-crafted by the artist. Nicole is also planning to take Whimsy World to audiences beyond Texas.
Shelbi Nicole’s dedication to sharing her positivity and light with the world is evident whenever you see her art. It’s a reminder that through artistic creation, we can share who we are and what we want the world to be.