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ИСТОРИЯ БРИТТО


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Бритто - самый заметный и известный местный художник в Майами родом из Бразилии. Tго история показывает, что усердие и труд приносят удачу и большой коммерческий успех.


"When your art is that saturated, what do you expect?" says Les Roberts, the gallery owner Britto sued, who denies having made fakes.

Love him or hate him, it's been a hard year for the man who says his paintings represent "the art of happiness."

An unfinished Britto.
C. Stiles
An unfinished Britto.
Thank developer Jeffrey Berkowitz (left) for Miami's Britto explosion.
Courtesy of Jeffrey Berkowitz
Thank developer Jeffrey Berkowitz (left) for Miami's Britto explosion.

Details

View our Britto slide show here.


Romero Britto has a way of making you want to protect him. He tends to oversimplify ("Is this article going to be, like, positive or negative?), is a genius when it comes to self-promotion ("Growing up, I didn't have nothing."), and is understandably preoccupied with money ("Carlos Slim bought my art, and he's, like, richer than Warren Buffett.").

He explains concepts by drawing pictures, tugs his index finger when he's nervous, and tends to parrot the same one-liners to newspaper reporters. Still, he is smarter than he appears, and he knows his rags-to-riches life story makes those very reporters swoon.

Born October 6, 1963, in Recife, Brazil, Romero Britto was the seventh of nine children. His father, Rosemiro, was a tall and handsome police officer who would "impregnate women and just leave them behind," Britto says. His mom, Lourdes, a manicurist, spent a lot of time waiting for his father to send money in the mail.

She bought a sandy plot of land in a then-poor part of town called Prazeres and built a small white house, where chickens and dogs scampered in the back yard. Three of her children died; nine of them survived.

"She was a good mother, but she didn't have much education," says Britto's sister Roberta. "There were times money was so tight we couldn't afford rice and beans."

Romero was always focused on getting out. He wanted things to be beautiful, clean, and orderly. He would sit alone under a mango tree in the back yard and read.

As he grew up, his older brothers spanked him when he didn't go to school or do his homework. "I think it was hard for him not to have a daddy," Roberta says. "It was like he had eight father figures pulling him in different directions."

At age 10, after spotting Michelangelo's Delphic Sybil in a book, he pillaged his mom's stamp collection to make his first piece of art: a little orange flower.

His chance to leave came when he was 16. After taking a test, he landed a scholarship at Colegio Marista, a prestigious Catholic school in Recife. He made wealthy friends, spending time at their mansions, riding in fancy cars, and eating delicious food. This, he decided, was the life he wanted for himself.

Three years later, he passed up art school to study law. Struggling painters didn't live in mansions. "I told myself I never wanted to be out of money again," he says.


The fledgling artist grabbed a paintbrush inside his cramped apartment on Le Jeune Road, dabbed it in green, and began to paint without a plan.

It was 1987, and after dropping out of law school and spending a year in the military, Britto moved to Miami, where he mowed lawns and washed cars while trying his hand at art.

He couldn't afford canvas, so he painted simple images on scraps of newspaper — sometimes using the news as inspiration — and sold the primitive, almost tribal works for $50 to $100 on the then-bohemian streets of Coconut Grove.

"He was a skinny little runt," recalls Tom Abraham, one of his first Miami friends. "Very shy. You couldn't get five words out of him." Abraham let the struggling artist set up a studio in back of his real estate office, where Britto tried not to dribble paint on the carpet.

Alan Serure, also an early friend, remembers, "He was a little offbeat — and his hair... He looked like one of the characters from his paintings."

By 1988, Britto had converted a beauty salon into a small gallery inside the Shoppes at Mayfair in the Grove. He had married his wife, Cheryl, and no longer focused on subject matter that was even remotely dark: the face of a woman crying or ominous headlines. He had discovered that people like bright colors and crisp lines, and his style had shifted toward what he calls neo-pop cubism. He didn't know it, but he was on the verge of becoming the McDonald's of the South Florida art world.

A year after Britto opened shop, Curt Nycander, president of Absolut Vodka, strolled into the gallery on the hunt for an undiscovered artist. He and Britto began to chat, and the executive — like future well-heeled patrons — found him down-to-earth and charming. Nycander sent the company's distributor, Michel Roux, to Miami to meet Britto and offer him a job: Design a pop art-inspired bottle of vodka for the mammoth corporation.

The ad, which featured a large red heart, ran in 60 publications worldwide and made him an overnight celebrity. The value of his paintings — which had sold for $5,000 to $20,000 — would double in just a year. So would his sales.

Britto, it seemed, was simply at the right place at the right time. And soon luck would knock again.

Smith, a Cuban-born 63-year-old, likes to sit in the Shops at Midtown park, surrounded by Britto sculptures, and listen to Latin Christian radio. He is missing a few teeth but smiles anyway.

Smith is a typical Britto fan. He likes the art for the same reason people like fast food: It's accessible. And it doesn't take refined taste to enjoy.

Britto installations make gallery owner Anthony Spinello cringe.
C. Stiles
Britto installations make gallery owner Anthony Spinello cringe.

Details

View our Britto slide show here.

For every art critic who calls Britto tacky and shallow, there are tenfold the fans — from suburban mall moms to high-powered celebrities — who adore him. Gloria Estefan is a Britto freak. So is Shakira, Norman Braman, and Prince Albert of Monaco.

But ask people of influence what they like about Britto's artwork, and they talk mostly about his personality. "He is a unique and special character," says Anthony Kennedy Shriver, John F. Kennedy's nephew. "He is constantly giving back."

It's for this reason Britto is a marketing wizard, says art consultant Alan Bamberger. "People have confused the artist with his charisma," he says. "They are buying his personality. And for somebody like Romero Britto, that's very convenient."

In 1994, while designing a T-shirt for the nonprofit Best Buddies International, he met power couple Alina and Anthony Kennedy Shriver, the David and Victoria Beckham of the philanthropic set. The couple has links to just about everyone with clout in South Florida. And they instantly loved Britto.

When it came to hookups, it was a lot like winning the friendship lottery. Once again, the gods seemed to be smiling on Britto. With the Shrivers' help, he used charity events to connect with prominent people: actors, politicians, and developers. As he grew rich, he dined with royal families and drank cocktails with mega rock stars.

In the mid-'90s, photos of Britto — generally at fundraisers with his arm around a star — began to pop up in magazines such as People and Ocean Drive. Readers associated the artist with celebrities and assumed his work must be good.

By 1998, large Britto paintings that once sold for $10,000 were now worth $100,000. He moved to South Beach and was commissioned by Pepsi, Disney, and Grand Marnier to design ads. City officials in London later asked him to handpaint a 40-foot yellow pyramid in Hyde Park. Soon galleries from Singapore and Dubai to New York were selling his art.

Then came the merchandise. Like Hello Kitty and Paul Frank, Britto sold watches, handbags, luggage, and teapots. In 2002, he even launched a perfume called Britto for Women, which was marketed as "the perfect fragrance for the contemporary, youthful, vibrant women of the new millennium." Fanatics rushed to order the stuff faster than Beanie Baby collectors.

As his fame grew, so did the pressure. "I think he always felt like there was quicksand under his feet," friend Tom Abraham says. "The way he grew up haunts him every day."

By 2005, to escape constant visitors in South Beach, Britto set up an unmarked studio in Wynwood. Guests were buzzed into the 30,000-square-foot building — which included sections for retail packaging and shipping — by appointment only. His creative space now operated more like aGap Kids than Warhol's factory.

Britto's workdays were spent signing his name onto bright aluminum sculptures and adding squiggles onto lithographs with Sharpie pens. Like a wand, a stroke of his hand would hike the cost of a piece by thousands of dollars. His commissioned works soon sold for as much as $250,000. Eventually, he no longer had time to paint his own art.

"People don't understand that when you become successful, you need help," Britto says. "Michelangelo had ten assistants."

Britto intentionally hires employees who are not educated in the arts because he tolerates no creative input, says one former assistant who worked on the artist's sculptures for three years. By her account, he was temperamental, controlling, and even slightly paranoid. He would fire dozens of people on a whim. Assistants were paid as little as $10 and, at times, felt like they were slaving in a sweatshop.

"Those were dark years," says the former assistant, who asked not to be named because of Britto's influence. "With him, you never knew which way the wind was gonna blow."

But to friends, family, and charities, Britto remains as sweet and loyal as ever. Reached at home, 18-year-old neighbor Armani explains, "He was always a great neighbor — sincere and genuine — and I'm not just saying that."

http://www.miaminewtimes.com/2010-06-10/news/for-romero-britto-luck-and-charm-trump-talent/2/

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Алена Булатова
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