Discover the Artistic Inspiration Behind These “Social Portraits”

David Amoroso’s Belleza Brutal

Visual artist David Amoroso’s upcoming gallery exhibition Belleza Brutal (9/12–11/4) displays “Pop Art” aesthetic through painting, photography, and block and screen-printing. Amoroso has exhibited in the Washington, D.C. metro area, New York, California, Mexico, and Central and South America. His work is frequently highlighted in cultural events, festivals, and Smithsonian programs. Amoroso paints portraits of cultural icons and everyday people; Mexican pop culture; and more. Drawing from street mythology, his work showcases paintings of fiercely masculine models enmeshed in vibrant floral motifs and patterning. We sat down with Amoroso to learn more about his creative process, vision, and hopes for the exhibition. 

Tell us about the creative process you've used to create the paintings in Belleza Brutal?
This is a collection of paintings I have created over the past 10 years. This series was "accidentally" inspired by a series of publicity photos I had taken of local rappers. Looking at the results of several photo shoots, it seemed as though the images could be so much more. As I began to create paintings from the most striking images, I selected backgrounds and designs that created a unique juxtaposition between the model and background. After the first few paintings were created, I began photographing other non-musician friends and other people introduced to me. Depending on the pose and emotion conveyed by the model, I look for retro wallpaper designs that complement or contradict the energy of the photo. Then I play with the scale of the design, enlarging or reducing as needed to create an interesting composition. 

How do these portraits differ in meaning and significance compared to your portraits of cultural icons? 
Most of my portraits of cultural Icons feature celebrities who are no longer with us or people I will probably never meet. Painting icons creates a sense of nostalgia for me, whereas these paintings are very much alive and represent the here and now. I always feel as though I have one foot in the past and the other in the future, and these portraits definitely reflect my mindset. 

Most of the wallpaper designs I use are well over 60 years old, but the guys I work with make the work feel very current to me—even when the pictures were taken a few years ago. Often the designs read as tattoos, which helps the portraits remain contemporary. The whole process is far more personal because I'm spending a few hours with each subject as I'm taking the photos. Photography is a very invasive process and requires a high-level of concentration. As I am taking photos, the subjects are usually deep in thought and focused on what they are projecting to the camera. Afterwards, I paint the selected image and add details that reflect my interpretation. I don't write poetry, but I often feel as if these portraits have a poetic quality and tell unique stories. 

What do you hope exhibition visitors will experience during their visit, and what do you hope they take away from it? 
I hope that visitors allow themselves a few minutes to be drawn into the paintings…That they notice how the designs interact with the subjects and 
themselves the freedom to come up with their own interpretations. It would be amazing if visitors felt as though each portrait shared a story with them. 

Belleza Brutal is on view in the Buchanan Partners Art Gallery September 12 through November 4. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and two hours before each performance. Visit our website for more information about upcoming gallery exhibitions.