Romero Britto’s sunny outlook finds its way into all his work

Reprinted from Houston Chronicle

Who says the world is falling apart?

From Romero Britto’s perspective, the sun always seems to be shining, sending out wildly colorful rays of hearts, stripes, polka dots and squiggly doodles.

You have probably seen his artwork: It appears on monumental public sculptures all over the world and on an astounding array of branded products – among them baby clothes, toys and games, smartphone cases, tableware, luggage and handbags – plus licensed Disney figurines, liquor and water bottles, Hublot watches and Mini Coopers.

Britto visits Off the Wall Gallery in the Galleria this weekend to share posters, limited-edition prints and sculptures that exude his signature brand of eye-popping happiness.

“Why not be optimistic if you’re doing well?” Britto said recently from his Miami studio, the headquarters for a business empire that employs about 100 people.

There was a sense of, “if I can do it, anyone can” in his cheerful voice.

Britto grew up poor in Recife, Brazil, surrounded by the chaos of eight siblings. He preferred books, school and quiet, and he loved to paint. Unable to buy canvases, he used newspapers and cardboard as supports for cartoonish, hopeful compositions with big fields of color outlined thickly in black.
More Information

Romero Britto


When: 6-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 1-4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Off the Wall Gallery, 5015 Westheimer, Suite 2208

Info: Free; 713-871-0940,

His best friend, the child of a British diplomat, introduced him to an utterly different lifestyle of elegant parties and world travelers.

“I was like, ‘Oh, my god, I want to be like that,’ ” he said.

Taking what he thought was a logical route, Britto set out to become a career diplomat. From the first semester of law school, though, he was miserable.

Luckily, Britto’s connections enabled other opportunities. He spent a year in Paris, where he learned about Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Then he moved to Miami, inspired to work as an artist.

He started by selling paintings on the street, since no gallery would sign him. Eventually, a retailer in Coconut Grove’s Mayfair Mall gave Britto space to sell his work. The mall wasn’t doing well, and that space eventually became Britto’s studio.

Then, one day in 1989, Michael Roux happened in. Roux, the CEO of Crillon Importers, was looking for artists who could help turn the labels of Absolut Vodka bottles into cultural icons. And bingo – just like the pop of the hearts in the artist’s paintings – Britto’s cheerful work was sharing a splash with Andy Warhol, the first Absolut artist, and Keith Haring.

Today, Britto’s company produces branded goods priced from $7 (a pill box) to $2,500 (a limited-edition “Guarani Ball” sculpture). His business – managed since 2004 by Alina Shriver, the wife of Anthony Kennedy-Shriver – has sold more than $50 million worth of licensed merchandise. And the empire still appears to be expanding: Britto said he recently signed a 15-year deal with a Mexican investor to produce a line of clothing.

He knows that our divided society has some people in dark places right now, but Britto prefers to focus on the positives. As he knows quite well, happiness sells.

“Why not be optimistic if you’re alive?” he said.