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Star-studded: ‘Family’ exhibit celebrates black tenacity

Celina Colby | 3/10/2017, 6 a.m.
Giovanni DeCunto’s crafts his portraits of African American icons with a fascinating blend of techniques.
Painter Giovanni DeCunto, a Lawrence native, poses with a portrait. Photo: Courtesy Giovanni DeCunto

Giovanni DeCunto’s exhibit “Family” debuted at the W Hotel Gallery and is on view through May, when it will continue on its series of exhibits through the country. DeCunto has made himself an integral part of Boston’s high-society art world, with portraits in the collections of Mayor Thomas Menino, Ted Cutler and Tony Bennett, among others. But DeCunto’s work doesn’t sacrifice the avant-garde in favor of sales. In fact, his paintings thrive on it.

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Giovanni DeCunto’s exhibit “Family” is on display at the W Hotel Art Gallery at 100 Stuart St., Boston, through May. For more information about DeCunto, visit: www.giovannidecunto.com

“Family” features a few abstract images in the artist’s signature impasto style, evoking Pollack-style paint splatters. But the real highlights of the exhibit are DeCunto’s portraits. Featured prominently when you walk into the room are paintings of Jay Z, Beyoncé and Tupac. DeCunto has a particular interest in black talent, with more than half of his “Legends” series comprising African American icons including President Barack Obama.

DeCunto’s portrait style is a fascinating blend of techniques. From afar, the pieces take on a mosaic look, while up close, they’re completely unidentifiable, with thick smears of paint and thin acrylic drippings dominating the canvas. That DeCunto is able to achieve a mosaic effect with an impasto technique is testimony to the artist’s unique ability to focus at once on individual spots of the canvas and at the same time on the larger image. Georges Seurat is applauding in his tortured grave.

The artist chose these specific icons for the “Family” exhibit for a few reasons. He admires Tupac’s multilayered personality. His hard exterior melts into the sensitive interior of a poet, much like a parent may put on gloves to fight off the world, but be tender with the child they protect. Beyoncé and Jay Z are presented for their savvy business sense. It takes more than just talent to create an empire in the contemporary world of social media and incessant PR. The two artists understand that impeccable work is only the beginning of the climb to business success.

DeCunto claims to have drawn inspiration for his own business from Jay Z. The two artists share a similar story. Born in a housing project in Brooklyn, the famous rapper, now one of the best-selling musicians of all time, built his career on tenacity and creativity. DeCunto spent much of his childhood living in an abandoned building in Lawrence, and dropped out of the Art Institute of Boston. His career is built on the same networking and relentless work ethic that Jay Z used in his early days as a “hype man.”

It’s interesting that DeCunto titles this exhibit of famous portraits, “Family.” Perhaps he sees the performers and himself as all cut from the same cloth, all artists with a fierce desire to create work and make change in a world driven by money and power. DeCunto also could be pointing to the humble origins of the stars on the W walls. Once just brothers and sisters in struggling homes, both DeCunto and the stars he depicts have risen to a success and artistic prowess about which their family members never could have dreamed.