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How Moving to Arizona Unlocked This Muralist's Candy-Colored Fantasy Land

Before moving to Phoenix, Madrid native Yai drew dark, gruesome illustrations. Now, her paintings are filled with sunshine.

Mikelle Street

Mikelle Street

This article originally appeared on Creators.

Her candy colored murals depicting pot-smoking puppies and sneaker-wearing flamingos can be found all over Phoenix, AZ, but the artist Yai, who prefers going by her first name, didn't always consider herself a serious painter. Before moving to the States at 21, the Madrid native worked as a graphic designer. It wasn't until a then-partner bestowed her with a set of brushes and paints that Yai discovered the world of painting.

"I'd always been drawing things, since I was a toddler," Yai tells Creators. "But I started doing it in a more professional way about six or seven years ago. I realized how, besides being fun, it could be a career." Since then, she's enjoyed solo exhibitions at spaces like Palabra, a hybrid hair salon/coffee shop/gallery space in Phoenix, and taken part in group exhibitions. Her color-inflected pieces appear all over the city; Yai's cartoon characters even adorn the walls of Welcome Chicken + Donuts, a popular local restaurant.

"Before, I wasn't really a happy soul, so my art was dark," Yai says of her sketches prior to moving to the US. "It was still my colors, but it was, like, kids ripping their guts out, and being bloody for some stupid reason, and things like that." These days, her work exists at the opposite end of the spectrum, focusing on changing the world through self-awareness, levity, and positive vibes.

"The more I've grown, the more I've become interested in changing the world and bringing more positive affirmations to this increasingly negative society, where everybody is so concerned about the wrong things," Yai says. Her work often includes animals the artist associates with innocence—like cats, dogs, and bunnies—as well as bright colors. "With the psychology of colors, it's always the brighter the better, in terms of uplifting [people,]" she explains. Over time, some of Yai's creations have become recurring characters, like her round eared, big eyed, joint smoking pooch, Doggo.

Yai notes that female artists in Phoenix lack visibility, and she finds that the lighthearted nature of her work draws criticism. "The work of other artists here is very different from mine," she says. "People are not used to this kind of art; they don't think that it should be on the wall, as art. Some people really like it, but some people don't care about it." Despite the naysaying, Yai maintains that Arizona's creative community is supportive of experimental artists. "[Phoenix] is one of the best communities I've actually experienced," she affirms.

Check out more of Yai's work on Instagram and on her Tumblr.

All year, we're highlighting 50 States of Art projects around the United States.