Almost two years ago, Vanessa Garza was working as the store manager at Pet Supplies Plus in nearby Berwyn. Like most 20-somethings, Garza was figuring out her life, exploring different careers all while pursuing an art degree. Garza said she gravitated toward retail because she enjoyed that side of management that allows room for team building and leadership.
But somewhere in between, Garza got bored.
Up until that point, Garza had dedicated her life to art, pocketing opportunities to paint a handful of murals around her hometown of Berwyn – and she missed art. She missed the freedom of art, the ability to create whatever came to mind, and the feelings it evoked.
“I took a chance, and I left that job,” said Garza, 22, who goes by the name Nez and officially opened her own art gallery in Oak Park earlier this month.
Here, inside Studio Nez located at 803 Van Buren St., Garza sat on a black stool surrounded by white walls that held up her paintings, prints and some mixed media pieces. They all featured a similar type of character: a planet, a fruit like a lemon slice or a seeded strawberry, or a colorful cereal box with its top flaps wide open, all of which have dangly arms and legs, big round eyes or a small smile.
The playful, childlike design is part of Garza’s collection called “Fruits” and “Stars.”
Garza said she came up with the idea for “Fruits” and “Stars” after creating a different batch of characters for a series called “Cereal Wars.”
She said her boyfriend asked her to draw something on his skateboard.
“I was like, ‘OK, what do you want?’ He said, ‘Just make up a character.’ So, I made something up. I think it was like two hearts; they’re supposed to be a representation of us,” Garza said. “He was like, ‘I love it, but it’s too cute.’ He explained how skateboard art is usually angrier. It’s bolder.”
“So, randomly I drew two cereal boxes fighting,” she said, laughing. “And that became ‘Cereal Wars,’ and I just really liked it. I just kept drawing it.”
“Cereal Wars” served as an inspiration for “Fruits” and “Stars.” The biggest difference between the two is that the characters in Garza’s latest series are no longer angry or tough. She flipped their frowns upside down and made them “a little bit happier.”
And that’s why Garza loves art.
“It’s not as serious for me. I’m not trying to make something with a deeper meaning,” she said. “I just want to see people happy or smile, and I think because of that, a lot of kids are actually drawn to my art. It’s always really fun.
“There’s actually a preschool like two blocks away from here. I always see kids every morning walking past and they’re like looking through the door [and windows].”
With Garza hitting her stride, she has spent the last month evolving and embracing this chapter of her journey. She’s carving out space to balance her full-time job as a marketing manager for the Berwyn Park District, as well as accepting art commissions and caring for her storefront.
As Garza looked around her space, she smiled once more and offered a message for other artists or those standing on the edge of change.
“I think it’s just confidence – that’s what I was missing from the beginning. I played it safe,” said Garza, noting she once pigeonholed herself as an artist before taking a leap of faith and developing what is now “Fruits” and “Stars.”
“Now, I look back, and I’m just like, if that would have been my style [from the get-go], I think I would have enjoyed it more.”
Where is it?