Interview: Brazilian artist Marcos Marin

Marcos Marin’s fate was sealed the moment he created a portrait of Princess Grace. The piece was delivered to Prince Albert at an incredibly emotional moment, just weeks after the death of his father, reigning Prince Rainier III. It spawned a relationship that the Brazilian artist could never have predicted, one of friendship, mutual respect, and opportunity.

Marcos Marin comes from an eclectic background, to say the least. Born and raised in Brazil, his father is originally from Malaga, Spain, while his mother heralds from Lebanon.

At the age of five, Marcos began to study the piano, following in the footprints of his father who was a lyric singer and soprano, working for the Brazilian cinema and theatre industries.

By age 14, he was already a classical pianist, dabbling in the art of painting and sculpting at his home studio in Brazil. But it was a trip to Paris in 1990 to finalise his piano studies that introduced Marcos to a whole new world of pleasure: optical art.

Marcos Marin with Hollywood legend Michael Douglas

“I needed to work a bit in Paris so I found a job with Victor Vasarely, the master in optical art,” Marcos explains. “And that completely changed my life because I was totally inspired by him and I started to produce portraits. I have always loved people and how famous icons influence people, they have always been the target subjects for my paintings.”

It was at that moment that everything Marcos understood about the creative world was turned onto its head.

“I had a classical, realistic style beforehand, but that all changed when I met Vasarely and I started learning how to mix optical elements with portrait elements.”

David by Marcos Marin

But the young performer was not pretentious; he never used his position with Vasarely to sell himself as a working artist. Nonetheless, little by little, his pieces began to sell until it became time to “put the piano in the armoire”.

“The thing about being a classical pianist is it is very hard. It is interpretative not creative,” remembers Marcos, “it was very severe and I just wanted to be free and create more from music as a composer. I did work in a studio for a while recording, but I found in painting all the freedom that I desired, somewhere to channel my inspiration and finally be free.”

In fact, the piano still takes pride of place beside his easel, serving an important role in the artist’s creative process.

“I play music sometimes and then I express that in my paintings, it is very connected. I see music in a materialistic way through my art.”

Marcos draws much of his inspiration from Chopin, Liszt and Debussy, who is largely considered the first impressionist composer in history. “The art nouveau music inspired me a lot, as did the art nouveau movement, it was a brilliant moment in history,” recalls the artist.

From his relationship with Vasarely, Marcos became acquainted with likes of Jesús-Rafael Soto, Carlos Cruz-Diez and Dario Pérez-Flores, Venezuelan masters otherwise considered as rock legends to the 25-year-old up and comer.

From Paris, Marcos moved to Miami in the early 2000’s, where the famous Art Basel art fair was about to be established. The growing art scene meant that Marcos had to “up his game”, and he started producing many more pieces, propelled by the enthusiasm surrounding the emerging art scene.

“It was incredible time to be working with big name artists, it gave me the credentials in the art world,” says Marcos.

His connection with Monaco came in the form of Delphine Pastor in 2004, who was so impressed by his work that she invited him to do a solo exhibition in the Principality. Six months after their first meeting Marcos opened his exhibition. Its success was unimaginable; all 45 pieces sold during the first show.

Grace by Marcos Marin

One of those was a portrait of Princess Grace, purchased by the palace art director and given to Prince Albert II who, just one month earlier, had lost his father, reigning Prince Rainier III.

“He gave the portrait of Grace to Prince Albert, and he loved it so much that he put the painting in a museum. So I had just arrived in Monaco and I was already in the Warhol museum, side by side with Warhol,” smiles Marcos, still obviously amazed by his achievement.

But the artist’s greatest honour was to come a few months later, when the Prince invited Marcos back to the Principality and asked if he would create a public monument in honour of his late father, Prince Rainier.

“I was not really a sculptor at that stage, but I had made a large sculpture of Mona Lisa four metres high, and it was a huge success in Miami during Art Basel. The Prince said he didn’t want a classical bronze sculpture of his father, but rather something that represents his new, modern way of governing, and he thought my sculpture would best represent that.”

Prince Rainier by Marcos Marin

So Prince Rainier III was unveiled on 8th January 2006 at the place he loved best, the grounds of the Monte Carlo Circus Festival.

In less than a year, the emerging artist had managed to have two official portraits in Monaco: Prince Rainier and Princess Grace, the two most important people in the history of the Principality at the time.

“So of course that changed my whole life,” says Marcos, “from a commercial perspective as well because people started commissioning my work.”

The doors of opportunity were flung open, and fashion designer Pierre Cardin approached Marcos in New York to offer him a residency in the castle of the Marquis de Sade in Lacoste, French Provence. He invested in the artist’s monumental pieces, up to five metres high, first created with fibreglass and then aluminium, a far more “noble product to work with,” says the artist.

With Pierre Cardin and Prince Albert on his side, Marcos travelled the world, creating portraits for presidents and royal families, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who asked for a portrait of himself and wife Carla Bruni. Some were gifts from Prince Albert, others were commissioned by the leaders themselves.

Prince Albert II with his portrait sculpture

“My work became part of the most fantastic art collections in the world,” recalls Marcos. “And considering I am a musician, I also became involved with people from cinema and the music industry, many of whom became my models, like Robert Redford.”

It wasn’t until 2009 that Marcos officially moved to Monaco, and set up his studio right in front of the palace, where he remained until very recently.

“Monaco may be small, but all the important people holiday here and the French Riviera at least once a year so I don’t need to move, all my models come to me!”

Marcos presenting Robert Redford with his portrait

One of his most recent portraits is of the legendary American actor Michael Douglas, who was presented with his sculpture as a gift from Monaco, after receiving the life time achievement award at this year’s Monte Carlo Television Film Festival.

It is in that moment, when his subjects first lay eyes on their portraits, that Marcos feels most vulnerable.

“That is the biggest challenge for someone who does portraits, you really hope that they are going to like it, because it is my interpretation of them.”

Marcos reveals that he draws inspiration from many different pictures of his subject while creating a portrait, and the effect is one of ageless beauty.

“When I do the optical transformation, age doesn’t matter,” says Marcos. “I can portray old people, and they become young. It’s a magical mirror for them, so I can confidently say that everybody loves to receive one of my portraits.”

Many of his pieces today are donated to charity, which is fine because there is more than enough artwork to go around.

“I am a workaholic,” shares Marcos, “I work every day of my life, Saturday and Sunday, actually I never know which day of the week it is. I wake up at 6am and start to draw, my painting is very freestyle, if you go close you don’t see straight lines you see the accident of the paint, that is what makes my paintings alive.”

Princess Grace sculpture by Marcos Marin

It often takes 15 days to a month to create a portrait that has been commissioned, less time for those that have not.

His latest achievements include the opening of a dedicated Marcos Marin gallery in Marseille, while another is planned for Paris. He is set to launch an exhibition in his home country of Brazil, and of course there is Art Basel in Miami which he continues to attend.

And although the artist has now found his perfect studio in a large historic home in Italy, Monaco will always be a source of inspiration and admiration for Marcos, whose works continue to brighten art houses, fashion shows, charity events and museums in the Principality, and will no doubt continue to do so for many years to come.


Top photo: Marcos Marin with racing driver Felipe Massa