There are 34 new works by Bongiorno featuring his pop art pictures of celebrities. The new art is a departure for Bongiorno, whose other work has featured landscapes and tropical beaches. Bongiorno has had several art shows including a recent show in the Hamptons, yet until recently he never had a show in Manhattan. With his trademark charm, Bongiorno went into a gallery and told the gallery owner the idea for the show. What sweetened the deal for the owner was the promise of celebrities coming to the opening. Bongiorno got the show booked even without showing the work.
Then, Bongiorno got busy painting. Even though it was April when he booked the show, the multi-talented Bongiorno didn't doubt he could put together the paintings by the fall. He had created pop art back in the '60s, including a portrait of Warhol with a soup can, and is frequently commissioned to paint large landscapes.
You might be wondering how Bongiorno was able to promise a celebrity opening. Back before he was an artist, he had a successful career in theater and film. On Broadway he performed in Lamppost Reunion and Off-Broadway in Marlon Brandon Sat Right Here directed by Paul Sorvino.
His film career is even more impressive. He performed almost two dozen films including: The First Deadly Sin with Frank Sinatra; Fame directed by Alan Parker; The Godfather III directed by Francis Ford Coppola, The Last Don directed by Graeme Clifford, Prince of Central Park directed by John Leakly, and Dinner Rush starring Danny Aiello.
Bongiorno's recent television credits include 14 episodes of Dellaventura and an episode on The Sopranos. Several of the actors from the hit show The Sopranos and longtime friend Danny Aiello will be at the opening. According to Bongiorno, he never paid attention to the reviews. He did a play with Danny Aiello in 1975 that was nominated for a Tony.
"You know when you are good," said Bongiorno. "People don't tell you the truth about performance." In addition to acting, Bongiorno has directed, produced, and started his own theater company, The Ensemble Theater Group. He has also had a successful career in advertising and even designed silkscreen T-shirts that he sold by the thousands.
"Everything I've ever touched I've always made some money," said Bongiorno.
For the "Sopranos" portion of the show, Bongiorno has many portraits of the actors from The Sopranos. For these paintings, he wanted to recreate the look of Roman sculpture for the Italians. They are all painted in shades of gray with black and hints of white for contrast. He uses acrylic paint, ordinary house paint, and unusual tools including sponges meant for cleaning. With the marbleized background the actors look like they could have been chipped from stone, like the busts that he paints into the portraits.
But he didn't stop there. He has painted the three tenors, including the famous Pavarotti. For these three, he chose an all black background and painted the face all in white. The result is fabulous definition, particularly around the eyes and mouth. Pavarotti literally pops off the canvas.
For the Altos, he painted pop icons Cher and Madonna. The women are painted with colors. The portrait of Cher has a bright red background. The red is echoed throughout the picture in the red of her lips, and red highlights in her hair. The Madonna picture is actually called "The Two M's." Madonna is looking at a reflection of Marilyn Monroe.
According to Bongiorno, he thought that Marilyn should be in the painting too because Madonna tries to imitate her.
There are whimsical images as well. He has included a portrait of The Boss painted in bright red, white and blue. And two mirror images of Danny Aiello, called "Mirror, Mirror."
One trio of portraits charts the physical evolution of Michael Jackson that Bongiorno calls, "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly."
The artist has a sense of humor about the work, and his enjoyment is reflected in the images. "It will be a fun thing," said Bongiorno. "All the paintings will be spread out on the wall."
After his solo exhibit in New York, Bongiorno plans to finish the commissioned work he received while living on Nevis Island, where he has lived during the winter since 2001. It was on Nevis Island that he turned back to art after the events of 9.11.
Not sure how to begin, he went to the hardware store and checked out with rollers and supplies. With his typical good luck, a woman asked him if he was painting his house, and Bongiorno said no, he was an artist. Sight unseen, the woman asked him to be in a show, even though she hadn't seen his artwork.
At that show, he sold five of the seven paintings that he exhibited.
"Now all of a sudden I'm a painter," said Bongiorno. "I got a new career at 72!" When asked if he plans on continuing the series of pop art celebrity portraits, Bongiorno smiled and said he has a new idea for a series of paintings. Considering the charmed life Bongiorno has led so far, it's sure to be successful.
Nexus Gallery is located at 24 West 57th St., # 301, Manhattan. The exhibit runs Friday, Nov 11 until Friday, Nov. 18. The exhibit can be viewed daily from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. For more information please call, (212) 265-0856 or visit, www.nexusshowroom.com or www.frankbongiorno.net.