Its a brilliant day on South Beach, the sun is streaming into the Britto Central gallery on Lincoln Road as media and corporate types are milling about. Beneath the colorful artwork on the walls are Romero Brittos latest creations, colorful compositions on a most unusual canvas strollers, baby carriers, rattles and sunshades.
Center stage in his gallery, Britto is announcing his partnership with Dorel Juvenile Group for a special edition line of Quinny and Maxi-Cosi baby products. Wearing jeans and sneakers, Britto, 48, looks like an excited teen, exuberant over the new products on which his vibrant art designs have landed.
This is a great opportunity to create a piece of art and have it enjoyed by families, Britto says, pointing to the sleek baby items. I wish good luck for this collection and good things in life for the people who use it.
In his Lincoln Road gallery with the walls covered in original paintings, some selling for more than $100,000, Brittos announcement of his newest partnership takes him further in a nontraditional direction. It marks another expansion of Brittos signature colors and shapes onto products that include everything from luggage to key chains to trivets to pet collars. It is this mass market approach to art that has led one critic at the event to whisper aloud, Whats next, Britto underwear?
Clearly, this kind of criticism doesnt faze Britto, who has a definitive vision about the direction of his rapidly expanding business empire. I am not like artists of the past who want their work enjoyed by an exclusive few. I want to share my work with as many people as I can. That strategy has transformed Britto from a contemporary artist into a pop icon whose original art pieces can be found in pricey galleries worldwide, whose sculptures loom large in public spaces and whose affordable branded merchandise sells in gift shops on cruise ships, in airports, in hospitals and most recently on the shelves of the giant retailer Bed Bath and Beyond.
Behind Britto, the Brazilian artist, is Alina Shriver, the Miami businesswoman. Shriver has worked with Britto for 15 years and although she is married to Anthony Kennedy-Shriver, she jovially calls herself Brittos office wife. Shriver is CEO of Shriver Art, the exclusive worldwide agent for Britto and the strategic thinker behind the explosion of Britto merchandise. Shriver oversees 80 employees who work from the Lincoln Road gallery, taking orders for commissioned pieces, overseeing charitable contributions and public art requests, sifting through partnership offers and handling ecommerce.
Although Britto may have started as an artist, he now has sold more than $50 million worth of licensed merchandise with 45 partners around the world, Shriver says. Miami advertising guru Bruce Turkel calls Britto a branding genius. His empire spans accessories from flip flops and umbrellas to iPhone cases and wallets, all the way to signature Britto art pieces such as figurines, posters and screenprints. The entrepreneur also has added book illustrator to his brand portfolio, producing childrens books published by Simon & Schuster.
Britto enjoys telling his rags to riches story. He was raised in Recife, Brazil, born into a large family, and grew up poor. Originally, he wanted to be a diplomat but became frustrated in that effort. He came to Miami in his early 20s to visit a friend who was attending University of Miami. He says he decided to stay and make a go of selling his paintings, which sometimes were done on newspaper. In the beginning, he sold pieces on the street, and eventually displayed his art in a shop in the Mayfair mall in Coconut Grove. Brittos break came in 1989 when he was selected to design the bottle label for Absolut Vodkas Absolut Art campaign.