Aggressive marketing pays off for savvy new breed of artists

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The Miami Herald

February 7, 1998

By Tananarive Due

Xavier Cortada is not shy. Given that he once expected to make his career in politics, the Miami law-school-grad-turned-artist is no stranger to self-promotion in the name of spreading ideas. Which is exactly what he’s doing now, except with a paint brush. And Cortada, like other emerging artists, is learning that there’s a lot to be said for an outgoing personality when it comes to finding an audience. ”You’ve got to be a real entrepreneur,” says Jane Gilbert, director of Art Center-South Florida in Miami Beach. ”I think there was the old myth about artists that once they show their talent, someone will become their patron and take care of them and move them forward. And there’s less of that mythology present today.’
ATTENTION-GETTER: Xavier Cortada's Web site featuring his artwork led to a commission to paint a 20-foot-high mural for the new Niketown store on US 1.

ATTENTION-GETTER: Xavier Cortada’s Web site featuring his artwork led to a commission to paint a 20-foot-high mural for the new Niketown store on US 1.

 Here’s how three young artists are taking care of themselves:

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XAVIER CORTADA One day last fall, out of the blue, Nike called. A Nike researcher had found Cortada’s Web site at www.cortada.com, where he has elaborate presentations of his surreal-styled paintings. ”I saw Xavier’s stuff and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I love this man’s paintings!’ ” says Cheryl Hunter, a designer at Oregon-based Nike. After that, 33-year-old Cortada was commissioned to paint a 20-foot-high mural that will be displayed on the wall outside the new Niketown store under construction on US 1, at the former site of the Bakery Centre. Cortada was 1998-new-breed3chosen from a pool of 50 other artists. (Cortada’s mural, which depicts a highly stylized image of soccer playing as a means of bringing people together, will go up this fall). But Cortada insists the point of his Web site, which he designed last March and updates constantly, isn’t commercialism. He wants to leave a legacy. ”It’s not about painting something that will make today’s marketing director at Nike happy — that’s not my audience,” says Cortada, who began painting for the first time since high school five years ago, after years of social advocacy work. He has toured from Latin America to Africa as an at-risk youth expert. ”My audience is whoever’s going to drive up US 1 in some magnetic-propelled car 50 years from now, who’ll look at that and say, ‘Oh, that was the art in the 1990s. That was a Cortada in the 1990s.’ And to me, I guess the best way I can market myself is that I take what I do really seriously, and I think about it in the way a retrospective would want to look at my work.” Combining art with work For that reason, Cortada says, he’s never concerned himself with making sales. He was able to support himself by combining an artistic message with his social service work, which dovetailed nicely into his first one-man show in Madrid in 1994 — where he was sent as a speaker, not an artist. But he took a crateload of his paintings with him anyway, and he set up an exhibition. The strategy paid off. By 1995, he’d sold his first painting in San Antonio — for $4,000. Cortada’s first Miami solo show, entitled Cubaba, is on the exhibition schedule at the ArtCenter/South Florida April 4-May 9. ”Because I was a guy who was credentialed with degrees, I was lucky enough to be able to get that kind of stuff. I didn’t have to be a Denny’s waiter and then paint at night in my studio,” says Cortada. But even now that his art is pulling in an income of its own — and Cortada is more artist than social spokesman — he says his aim is not money. ”To me, art is truly about expression. It’s about leaving my statement on this world,” says Cortada. ”The truth is, it sounds really bizarre, but this is not about selling paintings. And my audience is 50 years away from today — that’s the way I envision myself. That’s the way I think I market myself.” Given that he once expected to make his career in politics, the Miami law school grad turned artist is no stranger to self-promotion in the name of spreading ideas. Which is exactly what he’s doing now, except with a paint brush. And Cortada, like other emerging artists, is learning that there’s a lot to be said for an outgoing personality when it comes to finding an audience. 1998-pix_of_cortada_webpage