Imagine this: the sun beats down, music plays somewhere in the distance, insects buzz, the air is heavy and sweet. And there, under a guava tree, sits a boy. A boy that will one day become the man, the artist, Romero Britto, one of Miami’s most famous residents. But on this day, none of that matters. This day, like so many others before and after, he’s just a boy, sitting under a guava tree, drawing.
Growing up the seventh of eight kids in a very poor family in Recife, Brazil, this boy didn’t have the money nor the means to get art supplies. No matter, he would use whatever materials he had at hand – old boxes, newspapers, walls and sidewalks – whatever and wherever he could draw and paint and express himself through colors and shapes. From day one he fell in love with painting, with drawing, with art. And it’s a love that was always there, lurking. Waiting for the moment to be let out.
For years this boy, later a young man, would dream of traveling the world. Meeting new people, seeing new places, and maybe, just maybe, if he could, painting. His three dreams, his three loves. Adding them together gave him the added dream of diplomacy, of being a diplomat. He could travel, meet new people, and in his free time, paint. Or so he thought, until, somewhere along the way, the call of art, the call of fulfilling his passion, of that love being let out into the world, became stronger, louder, and far more insistent than the world of diplomacy.
And so, he quit. He quit the path that stretched out before him, in order to forge a new path. One entirely unfamiliar, probably more than a little scary, but filled with art, and passion, and love.
Looking back on it now, the man Romero Britto doesn’t think he would have been able to do it, to answer the call, to forge that new path, if he’d been just a little older. “It’s so important that the sooner you know what you love to do, that you make a move,” he says. “Because the longer it takes, the more difficult it becomes. Because you become more worried and concerned and the moves are not that easy.”
In his case, the moves led him to Europe, by way of Miami. Europe furthered his talents, but Miami is where he fell in love. With the place, the people, the temperature, the energy. Perhaps it was because it reminded him of his native Brazil, or perhaps it was simply that unspoken, alchemical reaction that sometimes happens. Whatever the reason, Miami became his home.
With his career, his passion, and his home clearly in focus, he began to make things happen for himself. Sometimes, they were serendipitous things, like when he left his work in a lawyer’s office for the lawyer to look over, and by the time he came back to meet with the lawyer, several of his paintings had sold to eager people who just happened to stop by the office and see a pile of work stacked against the wall.
Sometimes, the happenings were monumental, like when Absolute Vodka came knocking, and hired him for a campaign that featured his work in hundreds of glossy magazines around the world. From there, it became an avalanche: Pepsi, Disney, Evian… company after company hiring him for his bright images and easily recognizable work.
His work is littered all across Miami, with people from Gloria Estefan, to Oprah, to the late Michael Jackson as collectors. A few years ago, he did the Super Bowl half-time show. Asked what his favorite achievements are though, and he quickly picks out three: showing his work at The Louvre, in Paris; creating (and showing) the largest art installation to date in Hyde Park, in London (a 45 foot pyramid to commemorate the opening of a King Tut exhibit); and, most recently, when Harvard Professor Daniel Shapiro used Romero’s art to illustrate two of his lectures.
These accomplishments, he points out, don’t define him though: “The success of somebody is not one thing,” he explains. Success is “a combination of many things that, if you do it, and if you are happy about it, that is the most important thing.”
Perhaps the biggest component of his success – of any success, he believes – aside from happiness within yourself and your work, is being open: “It’s really about me being open to opportunities,” he says. “Me being open to good things in life. Because a lot of times people are not really open to good things in life. … For some reason they are just locked into some way of thinking. I was open to all the possibilities, and every possibility, and basically that’s what brought me to here, to today.”
“But it’s not over,” he’s quick to add. Not even close – with pending projects ranging from dolling up the Miami Dolphins’ Land Shark Stadium, to an installation in New York City’s Central Park, and then a mysterious “something” at Rockefeller Center, Romero will be busy for some time to come. Not that he would want it any other way. Although… if there’s anything he would want more of, with all these opportunities and experiences under his belt, it’s time. “Time is everything,” he says. “It’s the most precious thing that I have. … I always want to be able to create as much as possible, because time is so precious and it would be a waste of my life if I wouldn’t be able to do things every day, every moment. To stay without doing anything – I just can’t.”
It’s this attitude, this position, that makes people respond to his work. This wanton disregard for all things miserable and dark. To him it’s a language – the language of his art. A language that people connect with, and want more of in their lives. “It’s about … what I’m trying to tell people through my art,” he says. “My message is the message of peace and love, and people, in general – it doesn’t matter where you come from – we all want that. We all want that peace and love. It doesn’t matter where you’re born [or] what you believe in: you want love, and you want peace. And you want to feel good, you want to feel happy. And I think that art is a universal language and I can talk to anybody, through my art.”
It’s almost hard to believe that anyone this positive, this happy, even exists. It’s an ongoing process, this attitude, this joie de vivre. And sometimes it’s a struggle too – but as with all things that really matter, it’s always worthwhile. “Happiness is very important. And we need to work on that, all the time. On keeping it, maintaining it, every day.
It’s a work in progress, all the time. People … they expect art, and the artist, to be dramatic. … But this is a different time, and I think too much drama sometimes is too much. I think we need things that keep us going.”
So what keeps him going? For a man that works so hard to bring happiness to others, what’s his idea of happiness? Simple. “To be in love all the time.” After a pause he adds: “And to have it back too. To be loved too. I think that’s beautiful. No matter what, if you love and you’re loved, that’s just a beautiful thing. You can go through everything.” -DUO
"Of Guava Trees and Happiness"
Written by Francesca Franco