Rafael Vargas-Suarez (b. 1972, Mexico City), more commonly known as Vargas-Suarez Universal, is an artist based in Brooklyn, New York. Vargas-Suarez was raised in the Houston suburb of Clear Lake City, adjacent to the Johnson Space Center (NASA).
From 1991 to 1996, Vargas-Suarez studied astronomy and art history at the University of Texas at Austin, and moved to New York City in 1997. He is primarily known for large-scale wall drawings, paintings, drawings, and sound recordings sourced from the American and Russian manned and unmanned spaceflight programs, astronomy, and aerospace architecture. Post-studio research is conducted in Cape Canaveral, FL; Houston, TX; Korolyov (Moscow), Russia; and Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
Virus Americanus XI (2002)
“V.A. XI” is composed of many bits and pieces of shapes culled from satellite mapping imagery from places whose city names start with “San” or Santa” or “Saint,” and that have a coastal river or lake front. Places include San Francisco, CA; Santa Barbara, CA; St. Louis, MO; Santa Monica, CA; San Diego, CA; San Sebastian, Spain; and St. Maarten. Much of Vargas-Suarez’s work has a reference to water, although not obvious in this work. The color chosen for this piece is safety red, used for emergency vehicles as well as some of the satellites that originally gathered the images and information used to make this painting. The paint itself is an industrial enamel made to be used on boats, aircraft, and spacecraft.
Space Station San Sebastian III (2007) & Space Station San Sebastian IV (2007)
These paintings are from a series of paintings directly referencing architectural details and elements from Spanish Colonial architecture along Calle San Sebastian, in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. The doorways, circular windows, long wooden beams, and decorative ceramic tile work are referenced but not copied. The monochromatic and neutral choice of colors in these paintings is intentional. The aluminum paint and the black and white starkness reference the subtitle, “Space Station,” which in turn references aerospace architecture. This combination of old and recent architecture is a constant exercise in visual mining that artist Rafael Vargas-Suarez uses to compose certain paintings.