Pensacola Magazine

Art Watch: Daniela de Castro Sucre

While you may not recognize Daniela de Castro Sucre’s name, you are sure to have seen her bold murals on a variety of buildings around Pensacola. From the vibrant hummingbirds at Garden and Grain and the translucent ghost crabs on Pensacola Beach to the large-scale hands at First City Art Center, de Castro Sucre’s work seems to be everywhere — and that’s a wonderful thing for Pensacola.

Born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, de Castro Sucre’s work is often informed by the culture and beauty of her native country. Growing up in Venezuela “was really wonderful,” she said. “Our culture is very family oriented, and I have a big family. So, that is very much my memory of it. And the culture is also so focused on nature. The nature scene in Venezuela is insane—it’s so beautiful. It’s incredible. My mom would always find me outside looking at leaves when I was kid. So, I grew up with this appreciation for nature.”

Sucre and her family fled the brutal dictatorship in Venezuela in 2006 when de Castro Sucre was 15 years old. The hardships in Venezuela helped de Castro Sucre gain an appreciation for street art, a topic she discussed at length in her 2019 Ted Talk, The Power of Street Art. In her talk, she described art as a universal language through which people can understand and connect to each other. For de Castro Sucre, street art is a unique extension of that language, in that it has the ability to reach so many people and that its message can be both local and universal.

De Castro Sucre’s family settled in South Florida where she studied with Conchita Firgau, a renowned Spanish realism painter also from Venezuela. Firgau became her mentor and her inspiration as an artist.

“She was a really fantastic painter and I studied with her,” de Castro Sucre recalled. “It was more like a master apprenticeship kind of deal. It was kind of old fashioned. I studied with her for three years. It was Conchita who formalized art and painting as an option for me.”

After four years, de Castro Sucre’s visa expired and she traveled to Spain where she studied pharmacology and met her future husband, who grew up in Gulf Breeze. The two married and moved to Pensacola where Sucre studied graphic design at Pensacola State College. Sucre’s art career coalesced around two major wins. First, she won the poster contest for the Great Gulf Coast Art Festival in 2017. Next, she was chosen to paint the mural inside Perfect Plain Brewing Co., which depicts Rachael Jackson, wife of Andrew Jackson who described Pensacola as a “perfect plain.”

That mural has since been painted over, but de Castro Sucre doesn’t mind so much. “Andrew Jackson does have a complicated history,” she said. “So, given the volatility of everything, specifically in the middle of the Black Lives Matter protests, it is very understandable that the decision was made. And again, I do not see murals as eternal things. They change with time.”

Her love of nature has continued to inspire much of de Castro Sucre’s work, which often weaves natural elements and materials with bold colors and realism.

“I have a thing with tiny animals, tiny leaves, tiny everything,” she said. “Honestly, I’ve been like this since I was a kid. I realized later in life how everything ties in together. And even when I was studying science, my favorite thing was using a microscope to look at things really up close. There is this amazingness when you take a second to look at the details and the lights and the shadows of something. So that’s been a bit of a conceptual thread across many of my murals—to enlarge normal objects of everyday life and really see the detail up close. That was kind of what it was with the ghost crabs, which are native. I love to do a ton of research before every job and I learned that the ghost crabs change color over time and all these wonderful little things. Also, they’re in constant danger because their environment keeps shifting. So my work is very environmental as well. I’ve always liked ghost crabs. I have a thing for transparencies and they glow in the dark. I like to have fun with my work.”

In 2021, hands emerged as a thematic focus point in de Castro Sucre’s work, with murals involving hands developing at First City Art Center as well as in Miami and Venezuela.

“I have this fixation on hands,” she said. “I love drawing hands. I think they’re so expressive. I think that if you were unable to see people’s faces from now on, you would look at their hands to see what they mean. You know, it’s a language in itself. So, I have this focus on hands. It’s been a theme this past year especially. I’ve made three murals with giant hands. The concept behind the First City mural was the creative mind. The mental search for solutions and the creative ideas that you come up with. So, the mural is a bunch of hands stretching and pulling and playing. And then the main face you see is a kid behind the hands who is kind of holding something. It’s meant to represent the process of coming up with creative solutions.”

De Castro Sucre has been impressed with the level of support the Pensacola

community has given her as an artist. She even started the Pensacola Muralists group in July of 2021 in order to connect with likeminded artists and to create a supportive community of muralists and street artists.

“I just wanted to create a network of muralists,” she explained. “We have great artists here and none of us knew each other. I’m really about friendly competition. There are going to be jobs that we all compete for, but it doesn’t have to be this concept that you have to keep your secrets to yourself in order to keep your edge. That mindset is falling apart now. There are so many mural artists especially but artists of all kinds who actually teach their work. They show their techniques. They teach new artists how to charge for example, and they just open up the doors. I think that makes the industry as a whole thrive. So there is that incentive. Then, there is the incentive to create a fun community of people that we’d like to hang out with. We have graffiti artists, street artists, airbrush artists and brush artists like myself. We also have ceramicists and studio artists, so it’s not just street art, but we all have a love for street art and the knowledge of how positive it can be for our community. And then we do have some goals as a group. We would like to see more murals in some areas of Pensacola—the Tanyard district has been a topic for us because it is really close to downtown but it doesn’t have any of the zoning laws or the regulations that downtown has to protect historic buildings, so that’s understandable,” she said. “We want to change the codes, too. For example, the code on the beach doesn’t allow any murals, even though there are murals everywhere. In the future, if we were to become a nonprofit, we can apply for grants as well,” de Castro Sucre explained.

To view Daniela de Castro Sucre’s work, follow her on Instagram @danielapaints.