Life of the Party – Giovanni DeCunto
By the time he received the Bush commission, DeCunto had developed his own unique style of painting—one that doesn’t use brushes. He hit upon the idea after returning from another scholarship to study Renaissance artwork in Padua, Italy. Realizing he’d never contribute anything if he only copied the Old Masters, he began stripping down his work and combining styles that ranged from baroque to impressionist to pop. "I thought I’d take all the major movements, find the thread that links them together, and amalgamate them," DeCunto says. Somewhere along the way, he discovered that his tools were just slowing him down. He began throwing paint directly onto the canvas from gallon jugs, or pressing it in from tubes, each layer negating the one that came before. "It’s like destroying, creating, destroying, creating, destroying, creating," he says.
That style has garnered its share of attention. In the 1990s Reebok hired him to paint portraits of sports figures for its company headquarters in Canton, and in 2005 Survivor contestant Amber Brkich gave one of his paintings to her fiancé, "Boston Rob" Mariano, on an ABC special documenting their wedding.
DeCunto’s latest coup came this past November, when Tom Cruise booked the entire second floor of the North End’s Bricco for a quiet dinner to celebrate his and wife Katie Holmes’s third anniversary. As a special gift for the couple, Bricco owner Frank De Pasquale asked DeCunto to paint a portrait of them, which was then set up on an easel next to their table when the actors arrived. On his way out, Cruise met DeCunto in the bar downstairs. "I’ll cherish this forever," the actor told him, before lunging into a bear hug.
[sidebar]The success has made DeCunto comfortable enough: His paintings sell for anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000, depending on size and artistic merit. But the work itself takes its toll. "Painting’s a bitch," he says. "I get psychotic. I won’t answer the door, I won’t answer the phone. When I’m painting, it’s forever."
To release the tension, DeCunto hits the posh Sports Club/LA, where he is a fixture—in paint-splattered shoes and sweatpants—pedaling like a demon on a stationary bike up to 10 miles a day. Yet his main outlet is the one he learned in childhood: dancing. "That’s my moment to be onstage," he says. "It’s like a rejoicing."
DeCunto says it’s his friends who drag him out to parties. He was invited to the Daniela Corte show by the DJ, Edward Grant Stuart, whom he had met years ago in a gym class and who used to automatically put DeCunto on the guest list when he spun as resident DJ at Pravda 116 and La Boom. "[DeCunto] gets an energy going," says Stuart. "You have people posing and acting, and he comes in wanting to dance and express himself." Other friends invite DeCunto out for the same reason. "He is a wild man," says Charles Maksou, style director at the Mizu salon in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. "You put him in a party and he fills up the room with energy. He is a true artist."
Most often, DeCunto’s entourage includes Adeli, the dentist, as well as Ed Amaral Jr., a North End divorce attorney. "If you are out, he rarely talks," says Adeli. "If there are good drinks and good music, he dances the night away while everyone is standing around wondering what the hell just happened." Despite their lack of an art background, Adeli and Amaral formed a company, Giovanni LLC, to promote DeCunto’s work—starting with his first show in New York this spring. "His paintings should be selling for 10 times what they are selling for now," says Amaral. "People don’t take him as seriously as he should be."
In part, Amaral admits, that’s because of DeCunto’s party-boy behavior. In 2008 DeCunto did a live painting at a charity auction for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (for which Amaral frequently raises money) at the Wang Theatre. When the salsa music came on, DeCunto hit the dance floor, spinning Channel 7 news anchor and event emcee Frances Rivera and another woman simultaneously. "Here he is, doing this amazing work of art, and the next second he’s downstairs pulling tablecloths and dancing with flowers in his mouth," says Amaral. "I always say there is a fine line between genius and insanity, and I hope he falls on the right side of that line."