The work of artist Romero Britto is inescapable in Miami. His brightly colored, Cubist/pop art mash-ups adorn everything from public parks to suitcases, and, because of his ubiquity, the Brazilian-born artist has become a lightning rod for dissenting cultural opinion in Miami.
To his many (and high-profile) supporters, Romero Britto is the purveyor of cheerful compositions that make people happy and reflect the character of the Magic City. To his detractors, though, Britto is a glorified graphic designer who churns out “art” factory-style, and whose popularity with the city government keeps more deserving local artists from winning bids for public projects.
Wherever one falls on the opinion spectrum, though, one has to admit that Britto is, if nothing else, enormously successful at what he does. His is a classic rags-to-riches story. Britto hails from Recife, Brazil, far from his native country’s cultural capitals of Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo. He grew up poor, the seventh of nine children, and eventually made his way to Miami in the late ’80s to visit a friend. Immediately drawn to the city, he decided to stay.
Inspired by modern European artists like Pablo Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec, as well as artists from his Recife like Francisco Brena, Britto took up painting. In his early days, though, he could barely afford art supplies, and painted cubist and primitivist works on newspaper, which he then sold on the street in Coconut Grove.
Though his work was still far from the relentlessly cheerful images for which he’s known today, it struck a chord with the neighborhood’s wealthy residents, and Britto was eventually able to open his own gallery nearby.
After he was commissioned to design a custom Absolut Vodka bottle, Britto’s career quickly snowballed and continued to straddle this commercial-artistic divide. Since then, Britto has become a seemingly unstoppable force, virtually without any support from the traditional fine arts world.
Critics and influential collectors have scoffed at Britto, but other wealthy supporters in equal numbers have continued to buy his work and give him commissions. His work, now, is inescapable in Miami, where even airport employees wear shirts based on one of his prints. Now working in a Renaissance-style studio in Wynwood, with a team of dozens of assistants carrying out most of the technical work based on his sketches, Britto continues to score commissions for public art, from park sculptures to special parking meters designed to collect spare change for charities benefiting the homeless. (Despite what his detractors may say, Britto does give back, donating work, time, and money to numerous charities.)
If you enjoy his work, the good news is that Britto has licensed his creations to appear on a wide range of merchandise, from t-shirts to luxury cars. Much of this merchandise is for sale at Britto’s flagship gallery, Britto Central, on Lincoln Road on South Beach. There you can score anything: original paintings and sculptures, as well as prints and a few other small, limited-edition objects. Outposts in Miami International Airport feature more souvenir-style merchandise, from t-shirts to drinking glasses. To find more Britto, one need only visit any popular gift stores in the same area, or in any Miami mall. Britto luggage, home decor, and clothing abound in Miami. In fact, if you’re reading this in Miami, there’s a good chance you’re in sight of a Britto something.