A Portrait Story: Francesco Lo Castro Takes on the In Crowd

Wall-to-wall with-it is one thing. Hell, by now it’s a constant at every Butter Gallery show opening. But to have a large swath of the with-it literally hanging from the walls is another thing altogether. That’s what happened last Thursday night when every member of Miami’s art mob turned out to see a portrait exhibit by Francesco Lo Castro. The mass gathering wasn’t what was most unique about the evening, though (everyone who’s someone shows for Lo Castro). The most unique thing was that the portraits were of the very same characters who’d come to see them in the first place. So in the end, you had the with-it (on the walls) watching the with-it (in attendance) view the with-it (on the walls). Call it Heavy Meta 101 and then some – equal parts circular insanity and a quasi-tautological construct so tragically hip it’d make Wittgenstein flip in his Cambridge grave.

To a stranger, the gathering may have looked like so much self-congratulatory clap-trap, and in some respects it was just that. But so what? Each and every figure in attendance, with damn few exceptions, was present before this city’s re-creation stories had even been told, let alone written. Actually, in many respects they were responsible for creating the re-creation stories. So it only made perfect sense for one of the group’s members to salute the groups’ individual efforts in his first Butter solo show. According to Lo Castro, it was inevitable:

“Like everyone who’s moved to Miami from somewhere else (which is almost everyone), I had a certain love-hate relationship with the city,” he told me the next day. “Then last year I started really looking around at what’s happening, and I saw that there’s a lot to be proud of, and thankful for. And I wanted this show to show just who we should be thanking.”

In another interview with me, for another publication, Lo Castro called this exhibit a “love letter” to the city he now proudly calls home. And one could say the 19 larger-than-life portraits are a sorta love letter to the subjects as well. That’s kinda how I see it anyway; and yes, I happen to be one of the 22 characters depicted in this brilliant show.

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To name one of the 22 would mean I’d have to name them all, because each has contributed mightily to the scene, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t cite at least two. Green Family Foundation president and all-around Super Girl you already know about from an earlier column, when we’d gone to Lo Castro’s studio for the initial photo shoot. The glamorous lass with me in that photo up top is none other than Nicole Soden, a sculptress of some serious repute who doubles as a burlesque dancer, moonlights as a curator, and pretty much manages to light up everyone’s life. I’m fortunate to be close to both remarkable women.

The other 19, which are culled from various fields in the arts, are of course equally accomplished, and like I said, it’d be delinquent of me to mention one and not the others. I will say that it was dynamite to see director Aiden Dillard’s portrait hanging from Butter’s hallowed walls, and not just because I’ve got a monologue in his upcoming feature Hell Glades either. Aiden’s the kinda soft-spoken cat who contains the proverbial multitudes, and had Lo Castro not elected to highlight him, chances are he’d still be scheming from the shadows where he seems most at ease.

But what of the works? Kimberly’s mother, Dorothea Green, who arrived with her husband, Ambassador Steven Green, summed it up nicely when she said later that Lo Castro’s paintings reminded her of Lucien Freud, especially in the way the British master employs a rather brutal (my word) realism to bring out the strengths in his given subjects’ character. Considering that Mrs. Green herself has sat for famed portraitist Alex Katz (who captured her magnificently), you could well say she knows of what she speaks.

As Leonard Cohen sang, “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” And if you consider it all from that angle, the characters in Lo Castro’s show are positively beaming.

Thanks, Francesco!

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