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Arts & Culture

A step toward a 'beautiful life': What's next for two artists from the Coconut Grove Arts Festival

Diana Contreras CGAF.jpg
Natalia Clement
Diana Contreras in front of her mural at the Coconut Grove Arts Festival on Monday, Feb. 21, 2022.

Nearly 100,000 people visited the Coconut Grove Arts Festival last month. Over the course of three days, attendees got to take in the work of 278 featured artists. For two of those artists, the festival was an exciting glimpse into their future.

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Nick Ringelstetter is a mixed-media artist from Wisconsin. He attended the festival hoping to get his foot in the door with someone in the city’s art scene. He said he’s been wanting to relocate to Florida, and one of the neighborhoods he’s eyeing is Wynwood.

“What’s awesome over there is it’s pretty much the artwork I create now. It's very bright, I got a lot of characters in it, so I got the graffiti vibe to it,” Ringelstetter said.

“I figured if I was going to move anywhere in the country right now it would have to be Miami if I wanted to continue doing the work I am doing, that I am the most proud of and happy creating.”

Ringelstetter said he hasn’t shown at an art show in two years because of the pandemic, and has more originals than ever before.

“I’m trying to figure out what pieces are popular and what direction I should go with,” Ringelstetter said. “So If I’m going to make the move to Miami, I already have pieces with a great direction to them and I can have consistent sales.”

Art From CGAF 2022.
Natalia Clement
Ringelstetter said incorporating metallic flakes and color-changing pigments makes his pieces stand out, as they change throughout the day with different lighting.

Ringelstetter is currently embracing van life, and the Coconut Grove Arts Festival played a role in his change in lifestyle.

“In 2016 I was freezing in Wisconsin, and I had seen on Facebook that one of my good traveling artist friends was at the festival … and that very day I told myself I would never do a Wisconsin winter again,” he said. “If that meant selling everything I had, leaving the materialistic lifestyle, to buy a van and a trailer as a mobile studio, that’s what I was going to do.”

Ringelstetter added that the flexibility and mobility of living on the road allows him to pursue artistic opportunities around the country. He said he’s worked out agreements where he’d exchange an artwork for a place to stay.

“I’m still trying to figure out where I belong in this country … but I’ve got it narrowed down to Florida where I would like to set up a second studio,” Ringelsetter said. “There’s a lot of money here in the arts. I just wasn’t ready until now.”

Nick Ringelstetter (left) at his stand talking to a festival goer at the Coconut Grove Arts Festival.
Natalia Clement
Nick Ringelstetter (left) at his stand talking to a festival goer at the Coconut Grove Arts Festival.

Diana Contreras is a local artist that was invited by the festival’s curators to paint a mural on a shipping container by the festival’s main stage.

“I’ve been coming here since I was a kid. It’s such an iconic part of Miami,” Contreras said. “So that was a huge honor. I wanted to paint as many faces that I could in the container … and just celebrate the diversity and how beautiful Miami is multicultural-wise.”

Contreras’ art is centered around women. She said that’s always been a prevalent theme for her — from drawing princesses as a little kid to painting her friends and sketching fashion pieces in high school.

“I find beauty in everybody, so I love to incorporate that in my work.”

Diana Contreras painting eyelashes on one of the faces in her mural at the festival.
Natalia Clement
Diana Contreras painting eyelashes on one of the faces in her mural at the festival.

Contreras studied art education at Florida International University, as well as art history while studying abroad in Italy. About 10 years ago, she started experimenting with murals, traveling across the country creating pieces.

Her vivid murals can be seen throughout Miami — including this month at the Miami Open. She is being featured as one of six local artists at the sporting event, where she’ll create a mural inspired by tennis fashion.

Contreras gets lots of inspiration from Miami and its “beautiful people.” Her art matches the vibrant colors that you would associate with the Magic City.

“My art studio is in Little Havana, so I’m influenced by the Latin culture … (the neighborhood) is very lively, so walking down the street, running into people or seeing street performers — all of that inspires me,” Contreras said.

Some of her local projects include a mural and matching poster for the 2015 Miami Book Fair and a Suicide Squad-inspired mural in Wynwood as promotion for the 2016 film. She’s worked with a number of local eateries, designing custom pieces like a cafetera for Spanglish and Air Force 1 sneakers for Grails Miami. Contreras said she loves those types of collaborations because it’s fun for her to figure out how to mix her style with other things.

“The art, my gift, has opened doors to work with the best of the best creative people. It’s just been a really fun ride.”

Contreras said she’s also been exploring other ways of making income in the art world, including selling non-fungible tokens. She recently sold her first NFT for $1,000.

“It came with a physical painting, which the collector that bought it didn’t know,” she said. “He was just happy to have the NFT, so he was even more excited when he got the actual painting.”

Courtesy of Diana Contreras
Diana's first NFT, "Smoke Show," depicts a girl smoking a cigar. It sold this year for $1,000.

Contreras has an art show celebrating women in crypto on March 10 at G Art Sushi Caffe in Coconut Grove. She will be creating a live piece at the event, which will later be converted into an NFT.

The same week as the Coconut Grove Arts Festival, Contreras quit her job as a public school art teacher to focus on her own art full time.

“I was a little bit nervous, because teaching is such a steady income … but also becoming a mom, I just couldn’t do everything that I was doing,” she said. “I feel like my true self is coming (out) … It’s this really beautiful life that I never thought was possible.”

Natalia Clement is a freelance journalist and former summer intern for WLRN, South Florida’s public radio news outlet. She enjoys producing multimedia content that covers community news and current topics of interest.
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