There exists a Sacramento city block — urban, steely, angular — festooned with a domed birdcage painted flamingo pink, artificial flowers bursting from its opening. Or at least, there used to. “They usually get ruined,” says the creator of the flamboyant installation, multimedia artist Celeste Perez. “They don’t last more than a week, those type of things. … But it’s like, so fun and beautiful for a minute. I don’t mind. It’s art.” Perez’s whimsical fixtures may be her most ephemeral medium, but if the cheerful interruptions in the landscape make people smile or “change someone’s mood, just for a minute,” they’re doing their job. To Perez, who also goes by Digital Mami, urban scenes are canvases waiting to be glossed up by saturated color and saucy sayings.
The artist’s many mediums — murals, paintings, prints, jewelry, clothing — all carry this thread of cheeky optimism. Deeply personal, her art conveys encouragement, softness and strength, often because she is reassuring herself and “coping with anxieties.” One of her sidewalk stencils declares, “Ask. Believe. Receive.” Another, as if the next in sequence: “Keep Going.” Her line of simple white tanks, which sold out in two days, are printed with a bold saying that begs whoever wears it to snap a mirror selfie: “Daily reminder: You are that bitch.” Perez says she created the shirt as a daily reminder for herself when she was struggling with imposter syndrome.
Perez, who is originally from Modesto, attended Sacramento State to study journalism. During her third year, she dropped out. Six months later, she reconnected to her childhood love of art, tapping back into her favorite medium of collaging. She began making zines and letting her “creativity spill out again.” A move to San Francisco followed, allowing her to branch out and make both connections and money. (One of those connections recently paid off, as an old coworker commissioned her to paint a mural outside the dispensary where she once worked in San Francisco’s Sunset district.) After discovering digital art through a friend’s iPad and Apple Pencil, she quickly got her own set and created the artistic moniker Digital Mami.
Perez has lived in Sacramento for the last year, her “perfect city” that, sizewise and vibewise, falls somewhere in between Modesto and San Francisco. Her exuberant style has infused Sacramento’s landscape — one of her floral murals was commissioned as a backdrop for the Sol Blume music festival, and her trademark flower faces, anthropomorphic blooms she calls her “sassy gorls,” adorn many Sacramento surfaces. On one of her Instagram posts of a pink piano on a Sacramento sidewalk, a follower commented that whenever they see anything pink, they automatically assume Perez is responsible. In the case of the spray painted instrument, they were right.
This summer Perez and three kindred artists opened a new retail space called The Hunny Club. Located on K Street, the space serves as a shoppable showcase for their work, allowing people to support local art on an in-person level that goes beyond the usual sporadic installation or e-commerce website. Sharing the space between the four of them not only creates community and broadens their customer base, it also helps to split the rent four ways, allowing each artist to make their dreams a reality.
What gives you the confidence to work with so many mediums and produce a high volume of art?
I have a lot of anxiety. So that voice in my head is kind of what gets me going. I call it “anti-Cel.”. If I don’t go against it, I’m never going to put myself out there. It can keep me down or I can go against it. I’m constantly trying to fight it. We’ll just try. And if no one’s f—ing with it, we move on. Or at least I’m, I like it. And I can say I tried. It’s a better feeling than to just succumb to the anxiety.
Can you describe how you incorporate your Latinx heritage into your pieces, like the hominy cans and the Jarritos bottles?
So the Jarritos are huge because in Modesto, we have so many taco trucks. My order is two tacos de asada con todo, a sope and one Jarrito. And it was always the Tutti Frutti one. And then the hominy, me and my mom make pozole once a year, this giant pot. And my mom makes homemade tacos, always with pato sauce.
What is it about that particular shade of pink that speaks to you?
I lead with the eye. It’s got to scream, it’s got to feel good. It’s just an eyegasm for me, like a dopamine hit. I’m living for it. I get that way with color.
What is the inspiration behind your floral designs with faces?
I call them my sassy gals, my sassy “gorls.” They’re very fed up. When I first started digital art three years ago, I wanted to expand into merch and I was looking to do enamel pins. So I just started drawing things that were very simple that could be like a staple in my brand, maybe even a logo. I’ve been wanting to get my floral to be like my main staple of how people know me. You know, like Campbell’s soup cans to Andy Warhol and waves to Aaron Kai. I drew these flowers because I’m obsessed with floral everything. I was also, at the time, drawing these single line type faces. So I thought, what if I merged the face with the doodle with a flower, so I put it on there. And now I have it on my tote bags, everything.
Where do you get the materials for your art installations? Like the pink piano or the birdcage, are those found materials?
The birdcage was a Facebook marketplace find. I had an idea. First it stemmed from an illustration I did with the birdcage and a brain and butterfly wings coming out of it. I had just did the phone booth with the flowers coming out. And I was like, what if we make the birdcage with the flowers coming out and hang it from somewhere really weird and random. And it had to be a specific birdcage. I needed it to be the old, vintage rounded one. So I went on Facebook Marketplace and typed in birdcage and I found one in Woodland for like 50 bucks. I was, like, whatever. It’s marketing, right? When I have that extra money, I’m like OK we’re going to dump it here. You’re throwing it away, basically, because it’s not going to last but it’s like, so fun and beautiful for a minute.
What does it mean to you to “be patient with your creativity”?
Sometimes it comes and sometimes it doesn’t. Being patient with my creativity is, you know, you’re still an artist even if you’re not making art. You can take hiatus for a week, two weeks, a month, six months if you need to. In the last three years of doing this, I’ve had moments where I can’t produce, I can’t make stuff, I can’t just pull it out. I’m like what’s wrong with me? And it’s like, well, you’re not a machine. It comes when it comes. And it always comes back.
Tell me about your new Midtown retail space.
It’s called The Hunny Club and it’s me and three other women (Zeida Martinez, Brandy Bennett and Isabella Stanko). Financially it makes sense, and we all have the same vibe. We have very different styles but we all have the same mission, the same goal of bringing community together and just sharing what we’re passionate about. We’re all college dropouts with our own small businesses. It’s a whole store and shopping experience. It’s like Strapping Store but local, handmade.
Are you a full time artist? And if not, how do you balance your creative work with making a living?
I am a full-time artist here. It is definitely not easy. I had gone to SF and saved my money and brought it back here. I was able to live off it for a year so I didn’t have to get a job. But now I’m free flowing now month to month, and just making it work. I love what I do, so I’m grateful. I have what I need.
Edited for length and clarity.
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