|Our Very Own Picasso|
|Written by Christian Cipriani -- BT Contributor|
A Miami street artist with a famous name acquires a following to match
Art Week Miami always carries with it some unspoken theme, an artist or concept that later graces the cover of my own mental retrospective of a blurry, overwhelming string of galleries, parties, fairs, and parties.
What stood out to me last month was street art. It’s not new, but there seems to be renewed focus on it as an art form. Wynwood was visually transformed on a previously unseen scale, with every surface worked upon by muralists from around the world, and the centerpiece of it all was the inimitable Banksy.
He’s beyond street or pop art. Banksy is now one of the world’s most famous living artists. And 11 years after I first saw his canvas work at a pop-up show thrown by Damon Albarn in London, some ambitious and well-funded collector literally jackhammered Banksy walls from Israel to Brighton and shipped them over to anchor Art Week.
Every year we fling open our city’s doors to artists and guests from around the world, but it’s the local artists and gallerists working year-round who have laid the foundation for Miami’s reputation as one of the world’s new, great art destinations.
When I think about Miami street art, the one person who captures everything exciting about this is the muralist and undisputed master of spray paint, Claudio Picasso. And no, that’s not a nom de guerre.
Claudio’s mother left dictator Augusto Pinochet’s Chile for Miami in 1978, bringing her two-year-old son with her. It was here that he first got his hands on crayons. Claudio drew at home; he drew at school. He drew on whatever he could. By 1990, hip-hop ruled the airwaves and 16-year-old Claudio was introduced to the joyous rebellion and aesthetic possibilities of graffiti art.
The bold color schemes, the graphic styling, and the monumental scale, combined with underground culture and social commentary, all spoke to his emerging artistic self. Soon a hobby became a passion. Art education followed, but sculpture, printmaking, and digital art all led back to spray paint.
What Claudio does with this medium has to be seen to be believed. Instead of clownish, word-based graffiti, he creates deeply realistic monochrome portraits rendered with depth, softness, and dramatically lighted shadows that play off smooth gradients and negative spaces.
“Painting realistic images with spray paint was something I first tried about eight years ago,” he explains. “One day I just picked up a couple cans of Krylon and gave it a shot.”
He’s never used a stencil, that staple of street art. Instead Claudio has developed an incredibly capable freehand technique. What’s even more astounding is that he became one of Miami’s most celebrated artists while maintaining a daytime career as a high school graphic design teacher and librarian.
“I really enjoy my job,” he says. “I knew when I got into education ten years ago that I wouldn’t make much money, but it afforded me the time to paint in the summers and to travel whenever I could scrape up the money.”
Six years ago his painting hobby blossomed into a second career. After a few murals for friends, including Chef Jeremiah, who commissioned Claudio to paint his former lounge, Bullfrog Eatz, collectors and gallerists came knocking. Opportunities snowballed from there.
If you’ve stood in front of Sweat Records, eaten at Katsuya, danced out back of the old Transit Lounge, been to Lost Weekend or GAB Studios, or -- unlikely as it may be -- prepped in the green room at the Fillmore, then you’ve encountered Claudio’s paintings.
He has a quiet, sensitive air about him and, like most artists, he second-guesses his work (a habit his fans and patrons don’t share). “Two-thirds of the time I spend on an art project, I usually hate what I’m working on,” he says. “I wonder how it is that anyone could like what I paint. I can’t imagine what a mess I’d be if I had to depend on my art for a paycheck. I might not last a year before being institutionalized.”
Do people like what he paints? The applause that crowned him winner of a Red Bull live painting showdown is proof. Commissions from international brands like Heineken and SLS Hotels are proof. The Japanese TV crew willing to miss its flight just to document his latest mural behind Regions Bank is proof. Yes, it’s safe to say that everyone who encounters Claudio’s work -- better still, who watches it come to life in real time -- is left enthralled.
So what’s next? International recognition, perhaps, but he is focused on his latest portraits on wood. They push forward and refine a technique honed over two decades, which is never an easy feat for seasoned artists.
I haven’t seen them, but I know they must be good. Even Claudio likes them.
See Claudio Picasso’s work online at CP1Art.com or at Brisky Gallery in Wynwood, 130 NW 24th St., 786-409-3585, www.briskygallery.com.
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