In the world of art, there are those who create, and then there are those who captivate. Suzi Mora, a talented and passionate artist, falls into the latter category. Her journey through art is a testament to the transformative power of creativity and the resilience required to overcome stereotypes and biases. With a unique blend of influences ranging from nature and vintage aesthetics to Renaissance paintings, Suzi has carved out a distinctive space in the art world. Let’s dive into the colorful tapestry of her artistic endeavors.
Suzi’s artistic journey began in 7th grade when a chance encounter with an art appreciation class altered the course of her life. Initially skeptical, she quickly fell in love with the subject. From that moment, Suzi’s artistic flame was ignited, leading her to pursue art consistently, and choosing a career as a tattoo artist at the age of 20.
How did you first discover your passion for art? Can you share a little bit about your journey and how you’ve developed your skills over the past 16 years?
My first introduction to art was when I was in 7th grade. I’ll never forget walking from school to the parking lot with my parents and I’m looking at my schedule and the first class is art appreciation. I didn’t take that – they just gave it to me and I remember thinking, ‘What are we going to do? Just sit around and look at art and appreciate it? That’s stupid.” I ended up falling in love with that class. The art teacher there was a professional artist and he made these beautiful oil paintings of animals like manatees and dogs. His name was Mr. Sanderson. He was a great teacher and that one year in 7th grade art changed the course of my life. The next year I took art, and the next year, and I just kept getting more and more into it. I think the only time I kind of took a break was 17-19. Those two years I kind of thought, ‘oh, I need to be more serious and find a career’ but I just ended up getting back into art and becoming a tattoo artist when I was 20.
Could you elaborate on your influences, such as your garden, Florida nature, 70s decor and fashion, and vintage playboys? How do these elements manifest in your artwork?
I love drawing faces and the woman’s body. I still draw masculine forms, but the female form is one of my favorite things. I have over 300 Playboys and I also shoot film photography, too. I love that vintage look. There’s something about the 60s-70s aesthetic that just has a hold on me. I love it and you can see it in my art. I have a lot of what some of my clients call “groovy gradients” and I’ve just been sticking with that – which is almost like a rainbow within the forms that I paint or draw or tattoo even.
I created this painting of a girl with a bunch of zinnias and all the flowers that I painted are flowers from my garden. Whether it’s a butterfly I took a picture of in my garden or flowers, it’s nice to be able to say I sourced or created all of the references I’m using myself instead of just pulling up Pinterest (which I still do sometimes, you can’t take a picture of absolutely everything). My inspiration comes from the things around me in my daily life as well as other artists like Tamara De Lempicka and Arte De Gustavo on Instagram.
Could you share more details about your current body of work inspired by Renaissance paintings? What attracted you to this theme, and how does your groovy style add a unique twist to these classical references?
For my fiancé’s birthday last year, I took him to the Ringling Museum and they have a beautiful Renaissance artwork with drapery. I love painting drapery because it’s satisfying to do in my groovy style. So I had this idea in my head to recreate those paintings of modern people with different body types that wouldn’t normally be painted back then. Queer people, trans people non-binary people, skinny women and thick women and people in between. I wanted to give these people the experience of being painted in such a beautiful and luxurious way. So I took several photos of my friends and asked a few of my clients if anybody wanted to pose naked for me. I had a bunch of props and I moved all of my living room furniture to create a set at home. I got a lot of great photos and I’m going to take those references and turn them into a very groovy-esque kind of Renaissance painting. I’m really excited to create those but I’m running a business, tattooing full-time, and I’m planning a wedding, you know? It’s on the back burner but I’m chipping away at it. Good things take time, so I’m not rushing the process.
Congratulations on your upcoming marriage. Is your partner an artist? If not, is he supportive of your artistry?
Thank you! He’s not an artist – he owns a smoothie shop down the street from where I am at called Raw Smoothie Co. and that’s actually how I met him.
He’s always been really supportive of me. Anytime I talk about art, he listens and helps me create a plan of action to make my ideas a reality. I used to have a business partner and I owned a small studio with him. I fantasized every day about when my lease would end and I wouldn’t have to be partnered with this guy anymore. It was a bad business partnership and [my boyfriend] was like, “You don’t have to wait. You don’t have to be miserable for the rest of your five year lease. You have to create the space that you need to help you be the best artist”. He always pushes me to get what I truly want, even if it’s difficult. He gives me my space to do artwork. He gets tattooed by me. He’s always sharing my work and talking to people about my art and shop. He hangs up my paintings in his shop and office. He’s the most supportive partner I’ve ever had.
"Dealing with the disrespect from people for being a woman inspired me to create a space for other marginalized people to grow and enjoy themselves."
How have you dealt with stereotypes and biases of being a woman in the tattoo industry and how have these experiences shaped your journey and the artist that you are today?
I’ve always been minimized by my appearance. Back then, I didn’t really post myself on Instagram like I do now because I didn’t really feel comfortable. I’m not staying busy because people sexualize me – I’m staying busy because people like my work so it’s really annoying when I work really hard and do all the things I need to do as an artist to be better and people think I’m only busy because I’m a “hot” girl. No matter where I seem to go, me being a woman or being seen as an attractive woman has always been on the front of people’s minds and it definitely shifted the way that they treated me. Even clients – I’ll never forget this lady that walked into a tattoo shop I used to work at. She talked to one of my coworkers and was super nice to him and friendly. When she said she wanted flowers on her back, he said “Oh, Suzi would actually do a really good job of that.” And when I came out, her whole demeanor changed. She wasn’t very nice to me and demanded to see my work. So I pull up Instagram and she does a double take – looks at me, looks at my phone, looks back at me, looks back at my phone and goes, “did your little peanut ass do that?” I was judged by my appearance – she assumed I couldn’t do my job well.
So I kind of just ignored it, kept doing my thing, kept hustling. One of my favorite things to do is prove people wrong so I just let people talk their shit. Dealing with the disrespect from people for being a woman inspired me to create a space for other marginalized people to grow and enjoy themselves. I’ve gotten so much positive feedback, not only from artists in the shop but also the clients. Everyone feels respected and welcomed. Finally, I feel like I’m being respected and I’m being seen as a person and an artist and that is SO refreshing. It sucks that it took me literally opening up my own space to feel that way.
Was that the goal when you opened the shop or did it just happen to turn out that way?
It just turned out that way. I’m a feminist, I believe in equality. I respect and love men as much as I respect and love women. Unfortunately, I feel like a lot of the time I don’t get that back. I do have men that love and respect me as a person. Obviously my partner, and I have really good friends that are men who don’t sexualize me or minimize me for being a woman but I’ve had enough bad experiences for me to have to open up my own business. I’d definitely hire the right man but it’s mostly women and other people that ask me to work here. We treat people with respect and kindness. It’s the bare minimum, not an afterthought.
What is the process for joining your shop as a tattoo artist or local maker? How do you curate the selection of goods inside Plantas and Tinta?
[For tattoo artists] I definitely do an interview process to get a feel for who they are, what their morals are. I don’t want somebody that’s just tracing pictures, tattooing it and calling it a day. I’m looking for people who really want to grow artistically, who want to paint, who want to create, as well as people who are team players, who are kind, honest, and treat their clients really well. I want to keep the space comfortable. I’m not trying to be stuck up or bougie, or make people uncomfortable because we have good artists. I want us to be good artists and also good people.
To bring in local makers, I just reach out to my community, I go out, I talk to other people. I feel like I’ve met a lot of people organically through my friends from just going out in Tampa and being in the local scene. It’s a very organic process and I feel like that’s how it should be. I feel like we should all come together as a community. We all should be a part of the Tampa area and participating and showing up for each other, and that’s one of my main goals with my shop.
Other than getting married and your solo art show, are there any other aspirations or goals that you’re hoping to pursue this year?
I definitely want to dive more into illustration and film work. I would love to self-publish a few art books with my work and writing. I want to create an art and plant care book of the plants I have with drawings and film photos of the plants, info on how to take care of them, and maybe even other local work. If somebody in the area writes poetry, I can include some of their poems about plants in there or it can be about changing the seasons or whatever. Even books about adversity – what it’s like being a woman and tattooing or a woman in art and writing little memoirs of women’s stories with a compilation of photos. I love books. I have a book club, actually, and we meet at the shop on a certain Sunday of the month.
As a tattoo artist, Suzi has faced adversity and biases within the industry. She has been subjected to judgment based on her appearance and has encountered individuals who underestimate her talent. However, she remains undeterred, using these experiences as fuel to prove her worth and create a safe and inclusive space for marginalized individuals. Through her tattoo shop, Plantas and Tintas, she has cultivated an environment where respect, kindness, and artistic growth flourish. Suzi’s aim is to empower others and offer a sense of belonging to those who have felt marginalized or overlooked.
Suzi Mora’s artistic journey is a testament to the transformative power of passion, perseverance, and authenticity. By embracing her influences, challenging norms, and empowering others, she has carved out a unique space in the art world. Through her groovy aesthetic, Suzi invites viewers to reimagine art in vibrant and inclusive ways. As she continues to make waves with her creativity, there is no doubt that Suzi Mora is leaving an indelible mark on the art scene, inspiring others to embrace their unique artistic journeys and to find beauty in unexpected places.
PHOTOS BY @NOTLIKEJAYDAWAYDA FOR ARKIVE MEDIA CO.