Michael de Brito
Michael De Brito received his degree from Parsons School of Design and did postgraduate work at the New York Academy of Art. De Brito has had multiple solo exhibitions with the Eleanor Ettinger Gallery in New York, Galeria Graça Brandao in Lisbon, Portugal, and the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor, Maine. His work has been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London, Abbaye Saint André in France, Museu Afro in Brazil, the Presidential Museum in Lisbon, and the European Museum of Modern Art in Barcelona. De Brito is a recipient of the Pollack-Krasner Grant and a finalist in the BP portrait competition. His most recent work can be found in the Fundacion de las Artes – FIGURATIVAS 2021 – 11th Painting & Sculpture Competition in Barcelona, Spain. His work is in the collections of the Nevada Museum of Art and the Tribunal Constitucional in Lisbon, Portugal. He is represented by Collins Galleries in Cape Cod and Galeria Graça Brandao in Lisbon, Portugal.
You had a passion for comics, but after seeing John Singer Sargent’s paintings everything changed. What happened?
I’m always thankful for being introduced to the world of comics. I began drawing by copying pages out of Spider-man and X-men. It’s a lot of the reason I enjoy painting the figure so much today. As a child, I spent hours studying how each page was designed and the artist used light and shadow as well as color. I collected mostly comics with artists that I found their style interesting and moving. When I entered Parsons School of Design all I wanted was to work for Marvel. When I began my first year painting class something was ignited in me. I felt so inspired trying to master a medium that felt somewhat new to me. I was introduced to painters such as Diego Velazquez, John Singer Sargent, Edouard Manet, and Frans Hals. I remember distinctly going to the Metropolitan museum to see the paintings in person and realizing that painting was all I wanted. I never looked back.
“The Last Dinner” was the painting that opened the doors to the world. Tell us what this painting is and how important it was to your brilliant career.
The painting is of my grandparents together at the kitchen table. My grandfather was sick and dying of cancer at the time. This was one of his last meals in that kitchen. It’s a representation of how beauty can be in sadness allowing the viewer to share the last moment between lifelong companions. It was a major breakthrough for me in regard to subject matter and technique. When I first came upon the scene of them at the table everything seemed just right, lighting, composition, objects and of course the figures. It reminded me of Velazquez’s table scenes but with a modern take. It was an inspirational moment that changed me and my painting.
What is the importance of the family in your work? Do they like to see them at the exhibitions?
My family is the core driver in most of my work. The idea of family can be translated into every culture and is there to remind us in many ways how we are all connected. My family has after years of me drawing and painting them have now eased into the idea of being the focus of my work.
How do you capture the expressions and the movements and transport them to the drawing?
There is a lot that happens from the aspect of drawing from life. To really understand movement and gesture it has to be done when it’s happening in front of you. From there the final piece goes through an evolution of drawings, painting studies multiple photo references.
Museums were your “main school”. Explain to us how?
During my career, I have had many influential teachers who have taught me so many techniques and concepts. Museums were also a big part of that journey. I spend hours in museums analyzing techniques, color, proportions, lighting and subject matter. It’s all relevant to my work and has helped me become the painter I am today.
You take longer to draw than to paint. How is your work process?
Usually, the drawing process takes longer because of composition development as well as anatomy and scale in the work. Once that is completed the painting part seems to go quicker because the other parts have been completed in the drawing stage so I can focus on color and value.
Is it possible to live in New Jersey only painting?
I think it’s possible to live anywhere and do what you love as long as you are in the right mindset with a positive and determined drive in you.
Do you think that if you lived in Portugal you would have achieved the success that you have?
That’s hard to say. Looking back on my upbringing here I am grateful for all of the opportunities the United States has offered me regarding my art and lifestyle. My parents who have also lived in the US for a long time are also a huge part of my decision in making art my life because they were very open to allowing my sister and me to peruse our passions.
Do you like teaching or painting more?
My first obsession has always been painting and drawing. Teaching for me is a way to give back and be grateful for my experience.
Are you thinking of representing other Portuguese traditions, for instance, folklore, or the Portuguese fishermen?
Yes at the moment I am working on a new series of paintings that captures the beauty of the Portuguese Rancho dancers. This has been an idea I’ve had for quite some time and I’m finally making it happen now.
Projects for 2023?
My number one project for 2023 is the completion of the series of Rancho dancers for an upcoming exhibition.
A message for all the artists in the world.
Never take any milestone moment in your painting career for granted and savor each step in that journey.