Chagall, Warhol and Picasso are some of the names mentioned by critics when discussing the works of Romero Britto. His cubist, pop art style evokes a jubilant playfulness with its bright colours, simple lines and geometrical shapes. Dismissed by some as too commercial, his works are unapologetically optimistic and full of warmth. He arrives in Montreal this week to take part in the Cedars Cancer Heroes Night with Lance Armstrong in Mont Tremblant.
Born in Brazil and raised by a single mother, Britto explains that art helped him cope with the world around him: “Growing up as a child my world was a little bit of chaos; my mother had 9 children; and my art was a way for me to express myself, to control my thoughts so I always get inspired by beautiful things around me, the non-chaotic.”
The attempt to contain chaos is apparent in his works. The heavy, black lines may be rigid and orderly, but the paint and patterns that fill them add a lot of commotion to the pictures.
He got his big break in 1989 when Absolut Vodka commissioned him to design a bottle label for one of their campaigns. He has since been hired by companies such as Pepsi, BMW, Evian, Volvo and Disney to produce bright and breezy designs. His works have appeared on various items, including laptops, watches, cars and luggage, to name a few. Because of this, some say that he is more of a “brilliant commercial designer” than a real artist. Or perhaps it is because he reportedly makes $12 million a year. Either way it seems wrong to discount an artist because of his success. Just because it sells, doesn’t mean it’s not art.
Where Britto’s art does fall short is substance. His works are cute and kitschy, but their flash-in-the-pan impact is fleeting. They lack Chagall’s complex imagery, Warhol’s conceptual wit and Picasso’s depth. Whether these elements are important to his artistic goals is up for grabs. In correspondence, he said that making people feel happy is one of the greatest things that he can do with his art and I doubt that many people would deny the cheeriness inherent in his work.
Britto is no stranger to Montreal. In fact, one of his biggest collectors lives here, Guy Laliberté, whom he often visits when travelling in Canada. Britto teamed up with Cirque du Soleil in 2007 to deliver a pre-game show performance at the Super Bowl in Florida, where Britto is a resident. The Cirque’s performers acted as a “living, breathing canvas” that was set to music by Louie Vega.
Also attending the event this evening are ex-Montreal Canadiens Saku Koivu and Jean Béliveau, both of whom are cancer survivors. During the evening, one of Britto’s portraits will be auctioned off in support of the Cedars Cancer Institute and the McGill University Health Centre’s Best Care for Life Campaign.
Cedars Cancer Heroes Night with Lance Armstrong and Friends (including Rufus Wainwright and Kate McGarrigle) will be held at Casino de Mont-Tremblant, 1000 Chemin des Voyageurs, Mont-Tremblant, Québec..