Although he’s only 35, Mateo Blanco already has checked off more ambitious goals than most people dream of.
An opera singer, he has performed with major opera companies, recorded his own album, and sung by request for the families of both President George Bush and his father, President George H. W. Bush. He also has sung a duet with Aretha Franklin and hosted “Mundo Magazine,” a TV program on the arts.
As a visual artist, his portraits of celebrities using his favorite foods—sugar, peanuts, chocolate, coffee beans, pasta—garnered headlines in Great Britain’s hugely popular Daily Mail and other major news outlets and are included in the popular Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Orlando Odditorium. His other lifelike portraits of celebrities are made of dog hair and feathers.
This month, Blanco attained another of his ambitions: an exhibition of his art in his birthplace, Miami.
ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries is exhibiting five of his kinetic assemblages paying homage to one of his favorite entertainers, Madonna. Each of the 19-inch boxes contains two views of the pop singer topped by laser-cut slits that cause the subject’s pose to shift as the viewer moves.
“Mateo Blanco is one of those rare, gifted artists who is talented as both a performing and as a visual artist,” said gallery owner and director Virginia Miller. “He has made a career of amazing people.”
The artist launched his starring role in bringing art to ordinary people when his doctor told him to stop eating sugar. “So I said, ‘If I can’t eat sugar, I’ll make a work of art out of it.’”
That’s when he created his first works of art, a collection of Marvel Comics’ super heroes depicted entirely of sugar. The portraits of Captain America, The Hulk, Iron Man, and an Avatar soon began attracting visitors to his exhibition at Ripley’s museum in Orlando.
Those were followed by a full-length portrait of baseball great Hank Aaron made of chocolate bars, a seated picture of Star Wars’ Princess Leia of manila rope, and a soon-to-be famous portrait of actress Jennifer Lawrence of peanuts, said to be the most-photographed artwork in the U.S. during the summer of 2016.
The piece was commissioned by Ripley’s for the Louisville Slugger Museum in Louisville, which was working on a baseball exhibition. They told Blanco they wanted something featuring Louisville native J-Law that was connected to the sport.
Searching for inspiration, the artist went to a baseball game. “The more peanuts I ate, the more I looked at their colors, I realized that their colors were perfect for a portrait of her.”
Typically, Blanco then acted on his inspiration: he went home and using 10,000 peanuts, spent 400 hours creating J-Law’s image. He also learned one of the hazards of creating art from food—he ate so many peanuts while working on the portrait that his doctor ordered him to cease eating salt.
“Each of my works is unique—just like an individual human being—but is also designed to touch something universal that resides in all of us,” he said. “I am determined to make art that anyone anywhere can understand and love.”
Blanco’s most controversial works to date have been portraits of Michael Jackson and John Lennon made entirely of dog hair. “People were upset because they thought I must have hurt the dogs to get their hair,” he said. “Actually, I have a friend who works at a dog spa and asked me if there was anything I could do with the huge amount of hair he cuts every day.”
Blanco’s latest work, “A Summer With Sofía,” is a portrait of the famous Colombian actress Sofía Vergara made with dyed hen feathers. “What could be better than a summer with Sofía Vergara?” asked the artist, who attended high school in Medellín, Colombia.
Blanco’s works are included in collections such as President George H. W. Bush, the Ritz-Carlton on South Beach, and various Ripley’s museums, and can be found in New York City; Cape Town, South Africa; Amsterdam ,The Netherlands; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Queensland, Australia; Bogotá and Medellín, Colombia; Gatlinberg, Tennessee; Prince Edward Island and Niagara Falls, Canada; and Mexico City, along with major cities in Florida.
Located at 169 Madeira Avenue in downtown Coral Gables, ArtSpace Virginia Miller Galleries is the longest-established fine art gallery in South Florida and has held more than 300 public exhibitions since opening in 1974. For more information visit www.virginiamiller.com or call 305-444-4493.