Caribbean Aesthetics: Meet Aruban Mosaic Artist Omaira Silva
by Lou-Ann Jordan May 9, 2022
The Caribbean boasts many talented artists, and in our series, we’ve featured quite a few. In this instalment, we are excited to introduce you to Omaira Silva.
Aruba is replete with art and artists. It’s no wonder the island is known for being the Caribbean’s Street Art capital. Local artists’ skills span a spectrum of media as they work expertly with watercolours, acrylic, oils, spray paint and mosaic.
In Aruba, when one speaks of mosaic art, one name comes to mind, Omaira Silva. Omaira’s talent and works are outstanding. Several of her commissioned works are showcased prominently in various areas around the island.
An extraordinary and versatile artist, Omaira is well respected for her numerous creations, including the social sofa in Play Park on Eagle Beach, “Iguana” at Queen Beatrix International Airport and many others. Yet, mosaic is not the only medium she uses.
Yello had the opportunity to chat with the prolific artist about her early forays into art and her love of mosaic. Read on to learn about her past, present and upcoming projects, all of which you can look out for.
Where in Aruba are you based?
My studio is at my home in Ponton. I have a covered outdoor studio for my mosaic art creations and an indoor studio for all my other pieces.
When did you first become interested in art?
Oh, as a young girl, I would always ask my parents to bring me colouring books and pencils, and as I grew older, I got into puzzles. I was intrigued by the colours, the artistic prints—all of it. Up to today, I still love them.
What is your background in art?
I am a self-taught artist. I developed my interest by reading about famous artists, their inspirations and techniques. Today, I own many art books on my favourite artists. When I lived in the Netherlands, I would visit as many museums as I could during my free time. Once a year, the museums would be free, so I would set out to see as many as possible!
While in Europe, I felt I had to go to Barcelona to see the famous mosaic artist Antoni Gaudi’s creations close up. Once I did, I was sold, and so in 2002, I moved to Palma de Mallorca for a year and volunteered to work on a re-do of a mosaic project. It was a fantastic experience because I learned a lot about the techniques applied, the tools and the materials.
Later, In 2004, I returned to Aruba and started sharing my knowledge by organising workshops and displaying my and my students’ works. Soon after, I began to create public works and engaged in commission-based projects.
I wish to see Aruba covered in mosaic, as many murals as possible, and it has started! Mosaic has become very popular on the island now.
Your work features various media. Do you classify yourself as a painter, contemporary artist, mosaic artist, or craft artist?
I would say an all-around artist, but my passion is in mosaics. Momentarily, I operate a small, really tiny gallery at the Paseo Herencia Mall, and our visitors love to take a small art piece home with them. Often it’s like a tiny, lightweight mosaic heart shape paperweight or sphere.
I also create small watercolour paintings, which are very popular. They tend to be of Aruba’s flora and fauna or just fun, whimsical paintings, like the iguana and Prikichie (Aruba Parakeet).
I enjoy it all. I tend to go for whatever inspires me at the moment as I always carry an old textbook or sketchbook and pencil, sharpener and eraser with me. I hope to be around creating art for a long time.
What was your preferred media when you started?
Painting! I loved playing with finger paint and moved to watercolour because it’s easy to clean up. Also, it’s inexpensive but still fun and makes beautiful art.
What surfaces and materials do you most work with now?
All my creations are on cotton canvas and prepared with gesso, which is like a primer. I mostly use watercolours and acrylic paints. I don’t particularly like to use oil paint because of the drying time.
When I create a mosaic art piece, it’s usually on wooden panels, of which marine plywood is my favourite. But I do use recycled materials too. My Michael Jackson mosaic art piece is on an old door, so it’s life-size.
Please describe your process for creation.
Generally, for large project mosaic creations, I sketch on paper, place plastic sheets over it, then mesh, make my design clear with a permanent marker, and off I go. Next, I transport the pieces of panels to the location for installation. Usually, I can adjust my work when I cement it on the substrate. I let it dry overnight, and then I return to grout and clean up. It is always labour intensive, but I love it! Imagine working on a tall project and climbing on scaffolding. It’s scary now as I get older (lol).
What two words best describe your art, and why?
Colourful and whimsical. It makes me happy when I complete a project. I take pictures and just smile. It’s like, “Did I just create this? I need to confirm”.
Do you have themes you pursue? If yes, what are they?
Creating a theme depends on the client’s request. I create what inspires me at that moment. If I see something that catches my attention, I am inspired.
Are aspects of Aruba reflected in your art? If yes, in what way?
Oh, yes. Aruba’s flora and fauna, especially the iguana, the goat, the donkey, the Trupiaal, Barica Geel, the aloe and cacti.
Do your works display a recurring motif or image? If yes, what is it, and why do you find yourself returning to it?
In my paintings, I love to use the Romero Britto technique, which is using India ink or a permanent marker in the outlines to make the motif pop. It’s my trademark also. When I create a watercolour piece and look at it, if I find it’s missing my Britto, I add it.
What inspires you to create?
My surroundings. I can see a lady walk by in a dress with a Mandala motif, and off I go!
Works like “Iguana” and the Queen Beatrix International Airport and “Love is in the Air” the Paseo Mural Art Project are undoubtedly meaningful. What projects have you found most rewarding, and why?
For sure, one would be my March 2021 mosaic project, the Social Sofa on Eagle Beach. It was a very involved process as I incorporated a lot of Aruba’s flora and fauna. As I worked hours on location, many friends would come and visit and watch me create.
There is also the Angel Wings in San Nicolas, mainly because it holds our Cocolishi (shells), which I collected at Eagle Beach. Visitors love it! As they cannot take shells home with them, they appreciate that they can take pictures and show off a local artist, shells and themselves! Cool!
In 2016, I was invited by Tito Bolivar of the Aruba Art Fair and Gallery Artisa in San Nicolas to be a part of the Art Fair. Alongside two international mosaic artists, I worked on the Carnival Nymph. In the end, we created a beautiful mosaic mural that’s a must-see!
Tell us about your work with the “Mosaic Social Sofa” at Eagle Beach. How did you become involved in that project?
I was invited by Felipe Da Silva, the Watty Vos Boulevard project developer, as they had to deliver an art piece for the project. DOW (Aruba Public Works) told him about me, and we talked. I presented my plan, and the rest is now history. The Aruba Flora & Fauna Mosaic Art Social Sofa sits proudly in the Play Park on Eagle Beach for many visitors and locals to have a seat, relax, and admire the art.
Your love of art has spilt over into the establishment of the Aruba Art Gallery. What is your dream for the gallery? My mini gallery, Aruba Artist Gallery by Omaira Silva, displays mini art pieces in happy colours that are easy to take along. It makes me glad to hear the visitors’ appreciative oohs and aahs as my motto is “Always Shine, Always Sparkle!” and colours help. Do visit us. We are at the Paseo Herencia Mall at Palm Beach, opposite the Holiday Inn Resort.
In addition to the physical Aruba Art Gallery located at Paseo Herencia Shopping and Entertainment Mall, you also manage a Facebook page of the same name. What can visitors to the page expect to find there?
In addition to the physical gallery, the Facebook page allows exposure to Aruban art. Local artists post their art. We share to connect and learn about each other’s latest works, expositions, exhibitions, workshops and upcoming art events.
What upcoming events or activities can the public anticipate from the Aruba Art Gallery?
For the ladies, we have Ladies’ Night every Wednesday evening at Paseo Herencia Mall, where they can paint a Donna Femme Face with me. Then, every Friday is Family Friday and the kids, and I paint. Both events have a small material fee attached.
How can one access your work?
You can find me on Facebook and Instagram as Omaira Silva. There’s also the Mosaic Art Studio Aruba on Facebook and Instagram and Aruba Artist Gallery on Facebook. Additionally, I can be contacted by email at [email protected].
Have you ever been to Aruba? We encourage you to take a trip and enjoy the beautiful art collection showcased throughout the island. While there, be sure to take in Omaira’s mosaic art creations, and stop by the Aruba Art Gallery.