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Painting a Picture of Success

August 13, 2010
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A New DayRomero Britto travels the world living his dreams. Now, the renowned Brazilian-born pop painter and sculptor is working to inspire students at the School of Business to live theirs.

As a member of the School’s Entrepreneurship Program Advisory Board, Britto will help promote awareness and collaboration between the entrepreneurship program and the local and international business communities, as well as offer entrepreneurship-related strategic advice.

A self-taught artist, Britto inspires students with his unlikely success story. He grew up among eight brothers and sisters in the city of Recife, Brazil, his early canvases scraps of newspaper and cardboard. Britto moved to Miami Beach to set up a studio in the early 1980s and played the part of struggling artist before getting his big break in 1989. That’s when Absolut Vodka selected him to design a commemorative label, giving the young artist seemingly overnight worldwide fame.

Today, Britto’s work appears in more than 100 galleries and museums from Singapore to Dubai and from London to New York. Companies actively pursue his designs for advertising, product logos, sculptures, murals and public art. The New York Times has described his work as “Matisse channeling Picasso.”

Britto drawing

This sketch (above), made by Britto
for Dean Kahn, represents the importance
of both creativity and structure.

We talked with Britto while he was working on an oversized, brightly colored painting for a collector, just before he was to fly to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January. Britto discussed his art, his entrepreneurial ventures and his sources of inspiration. But first, he discussed a sketch he made for School of Business Dean Barbara E. Kahn to illustrate his view of entrepreneurship. 

Can you tell me a little bit about this sketch [pictured above]?

It’s about how I deal with the world of creativity and business. I made this sketch and explained that one side of the drawing is creativity and the other side is structure. The line dividing the two sides represents the passage from the world of creativity to the world of structure. To make sure ideas happen, you need some sort of structure, one step after the other. The biggest challenge for someone who is very creative is following up. You can have a great idea, but if you don’t follow up nothing happens. So you need some structure, you need communications, and you need follow-up.

What other characteristics do you see as being vital for entrepreneurs?

Two things: to be open to all possibilities and timing. Timing is everything, because you may have an idea today, but if you don’t move fast, tomorrow it may be old news. The wind of opportunity moves fast.

How do you blend entrepreneurship with your art?

I never saw myself as an entrepreneur. I see myself as an artist. When you love something and you put your energy into it, chances are it’s going to happen. I heard Bill Gates talking some time ago and he said that if you have a good product and a good work ethic, you can do great things. I believe that.

What lessons did you learn from your early days trying to break into the art world? Were there struggles and mistakes?

Yes, there were struggles, there were mistakes. But you learn as you go along. I learned to keep my mind open to new ideas and learn as much as possible from people that have experience. A young person should look for a mentor. It’s good to read as much as possible. It’s also good to go to a university and learn, because it gives you an advantage when you get into the business world.

Where do you find your inspiration for your art?

My inspiration is everyday life. I think about my past. I think about my future. I think about things that I want to do. I think about my dreams. It’s very important to dream and visualize what you want to do. How are you going to get what’s there for you if you don’t dream about it? You also have to work on your dream. It never happens if you don’t think about it, make a plan and work step-by-step towards your dream. Money doesn’t inspire me. My dreams do.

Have you ever felt like giving up?

There were times when it was very discouraging because many people are not open to new ideas. But I never thought about giving up painting. I once studied to be a diplomat. But once I moved forward and decided to be an artist, I never thought about anything else. If you follow your dreams and you work hard and do a good job, the money really will come. Many times, people lose because they are too scared to make a move. You have to follow your gut.

How will you help the School of Business as a member of the advisory board?

I’m honored that I was asked to be part of the board. I hope my story inspires people. It can be hard for a young person to look at someone like Bill Gates or so many other amazing businessmen and imagine that they once started out in the same place. You have to start somewhere. I’m still at the beginning of my story, but maybe I can inspire someone. Inspiration is important.

Interview by Jennifer LeClaire

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