Live Magazine “The wild world of Domingo Zapata”

Depp and DiCaprio buy his art, Lindsay Lohan crashed his car and Hollywood beauties want him to paint them – naked: The wild world of Domingo Zapata

Louise Gannon enters the wild world of the A-list’s favourite artist, Domingo Zapata

He’s been dubbed the new Andy Warhol. He dines out with Johnny Depp, has midnight painting sessions with Lindsay Lohan, fuels gossip columns after nights out with Scarlett Johansson and has an ability to persuade any A-list actress to lose her clothes.

Domingo Zapata is the celebrity artist du jour. His work sells for six-figure sums and is collected by the likes of Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio and Goldman Sachs.

He currently has a waiting list of around 30 commissions, as well as an exhibition to stage in Venice this summer and a mural to paint for the lobby of the new One World Trade Centre tower.

‘I guess I am a very lucky man,’ he says in his heavily accented English. ‘People like me, they like what I do.

‘Women like me and I love them. I only paint women. Not men. And yes, lots of times naked. It is easy for me to ask a woman to take off her clothes. I’m an artist. I need to see who they are. But yes, as a man, I am very happy.’

Zapata, now 38, grew up in Palma on the Spanish island of Mallorca. His father was a car painter, his mother a tailor. After studying art (along with political science) in Spain, London and Washington, he first took a job on Wall Street.

‘I worked for two months, made no deals, never wore a suit and took a siesta every day, but I made a lot of good friends,’ he says.

‘I knew I had to get other jobs to pay for my art, and I never stopped painting. I painted any chance I could get.’

Then came a stint in the music industry, during which he co-wrote the lyrics for Los del Rio’s novelty dance hit Macarena and worked with Michael Jackson.

He finally put on his first show in New York in 2004 with £220,000 he raised after investing in a friend’s hugely successful online-dating company.

His artistic style is informed by a childhood spent making collages from fabric offcuts with his mother, mixing spray paints with his father and practising graffiti techniques at school.

Fabric, Polaroids and posters figure prominently, and his images, in oils and acrylics – of women, bulls and polo horses – are composed of vivid primary colours.

His works are often filled with randomly graffitied words and phrases.

‘I am not precious,’ he says. ‘Sometimes my kids (he has two young boys from his marriage to his soon-to-be-ex-wife) paint on my canvases. My dealers go insane, but I don’t care. It is my life. Life is art. It adds energy.’

His 2004 exhibition – attended by his Wall Street and music-industry friends – got him serious attention; the billionaire investor George Soros bought one of his ‘polo’ paintings.

At his subsequent exhibition in LA, the coolest of movie stars were in attendance, with Depp not only buying a piece, but asking Zapata to look at his own work.

‘Johnny paints. He loves drawings and collages. He’s good. I tell him to keep going.’

Damien Hirst rocked up to Zapata’s 2005 Miami exhibition, as did Picasso’s granddaughter, Diana, who like Hirst has become a good friend.

‘Diana always tells me that Picasso never gave his best works to his dealers, so he protected his art.

‘Damien is a very clever guy – I’m a fan. I studied in London, so I’m really influenced by British art. He keeps telling me I must meet Tracey Emin. I think her work is brilliant.’

But the real masterpiece is the man himself. Zapata is the absolute embodiment of the romantic, cinematic ideal of the artist, from the accent to the wolfish grin, the tangled long, dark hair to an even more tangled love life.

There are tiny flecks of paint under his fingernails, on his trousers and in the hairs on his bare arms, which are adorned with tattoos of his own design.

I’m meeting him in London’s über-chic Blakes hotel, and in the freezing cold of a British winter he wears Jim Morrison-style black leather trousers and a black T-shirt. He is laid-back, charming and apparently angst-free – as might be expected of a man who never imagined he could make a multimillion-dollar living from his painting.

In his leather-braceleted hand is, of course, a cigarette. His philosophy is ‘Do what you want – don’t worry’.

In his New York penthouse/studio at The Bowery Hotel, where the white leather sofas are covered in graffiti (‘Do what you want’) and the floors and walls in half-finished canvases, he keeps a set of car keys for Lohan when she comes to stay.

A few months ago – not long after writing off a rental Porsche – she allegedly hit a pedestrian in his Porsche Cayenne (the charges were later dropped).

He is unperturbed: ‘It’s Lindsay. What do you expect?’

Does he still let her have his car keys? ‘Of course. Why not?’ Lohan’s current car-incident tally is eight offences in under six years…

Zapata is in London to organise his latest exhibition, called Ten, which will feature paintings of ten of the world’s most beautiful women.

Rather fascinatingly, he says he’s painting 15 women – including Lohan, Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson, Eva Longoria, Sofia Vergara and Lady Gaga – before whittling his choices down to ten.

Considering the delicate egos involved, I suggest that for many this could be career suicide.

‘No,’ he says. ‘They will still love me. It is not a competition. I have to choose the best paintings. I have to feel something from the paintings. This does not worry me. It will be good.’

His confidence is probably well founded: last year he had Longoria demanding he paint on her naked body after seeing shots of him applying a brush to the voluptuous curves of America’s highest-paid TV actress, Sofia Vergara.

He shrugs. ‘I was at her house in LA. It was pretty late at night and she wanted me to paint her. We had a problem, because there were paints but no canvas, so she just laughed and took off her dress and said, “I am the canvas. Paint me.” So I did.

‘Then Eva calls me and says, “When are you going to paint my body like you did with Sofia?” Well, maybe I can’t do that again. I tell her I want to do something different. I want to paint her with not so many clothes, a whip in one hand and an artichoke in the other.

‘There is nothing more sexy than a beautiful woman barefoot in the kitchen with food. She loves the idea.’

Zapata loves to talk about art, but he also loves to discuss sex and women. He’s been romantically linked to Lohan and Elisabetta Canalis (George Clooney’s ex).

‘Every week I have a new lover,’ he laughs. ‘I just ignore it. These women are my friends. I don’t kiss and tell; I kiss and paint.’

It’s not hard to see why he gets himself into gossip columns. He describes meeting Vergara.

‘The first time I met her was at a dinner party, and I was amazed by her. The whole room was completely charged with her sexual energy. You could see every man in the room trying to stop themselves looking at her.

‘Of course I didn’t. I can tell a woman she is beautiful. I can tell a woman I want to paint her; I can say to her, “If you feel comfortable, you can take off your clothes.”’

He laughs again. ‘One of my subjects (he won’t say who) told me the condition was that I took my clothes off too as I painted. Painting is not photography – it demands a far more intimate relationship with the subject.

‘Every day layers strip away and you become incredibly close. When I was naked too that was sometimes a bit difficult, but you go with it.’

It seems odd that he began his career painting bulls, bullfighters and polo horses, and yet – as with Warhol – his most coveted works have become the women he hangs out with, ever illuminated by the flame of celebrity.

Again like Warhol, his lifestyle revolves around the dark glamour of nightclubs and parties, and the value of his work is enhanced by his super-cool reputation. It makes good business sense.

When he first arrived in LA ‘I checked into the Chateau Marmont and used my room as an open studio’.

Now, in addition to his New York studio, he has others in Paris and Miami, and his exhibitions open alongside star-studded events such as the Venice Film Festival. His hours – in keeping with every other aspect of his life – are unconventional.

He stays out till 4am most nights and is up painting at 8am.

‘My secret is the siesta,’ he says. ‘Every day I sleep in the afternoon. I never miss. I am a Spanish man.’

If Zapata is the new Warhol, though, he’s a 21st-century version. He is neither reclusive nor overtly business-minded. He has turned down offers worth millions to do print versions of his paintings. He considers the comparison seriously.

‘Unlike Warhol I am not gay,’ he says. Whereas Warhol was fascinated by fame, Zapata is more drawn towards sex and beauty.

Lady Gaga, he admits, isn’t conventionally beautiful.

Considering the delicate egos involved, I suggest that for many this could be career suicide.

‘No,’ he says. ‘They will still love me. It is not a competition. I have to choose the best paintings. I have to feel something from the paintings. This does not worry me. It will be good.’

‘But you go into a room with her and you are totally drawn to her, fascinated. She has something burning inside, and that makes her extremely beautiful to me. Beauty and sex aren’t about being perfect.

‘What is crazy about Sofia (Vergara) is that she is a woman of 40 who is more sexually attractive than most women in their twenties. It’s that power that makes them different.’

The work he’s most proud of, however, is a ghostly image of Marilyn Monroe, The Last Day Of Marilyn (sold for $100,000 to an Israeli bank). It’s one of his most stripped-back, painterly creations.

‘It took me two years, because I needed to work out how to do the eyes. I wanted them to haunt, to show the pain. I couldn’t paint them for more than a year, and then one morning I woke up totally sure of what to do. It took me less than an hour to complete them.’

He believes the aim of the artist is to expose the soul of the subject. I point out that many of his subjects have careers based on artifice, and he nods.

‘But that is the point. They want someone to see them as they really are.’

Lohan’s reputation (drink, drugs, arrests) is such that many men keep away from her.

‘I don’t judge. I don’t try to change her. To me she is not all those things – she is something more. What she does is her journey. What I do is be there for her as a friend, enjoy our friendship.

‘A few years ago I went to her house. I didn’t know it was her house, I didn’t know who she was. I saw a woman sitting on the floor with a hood over her head. That fascinated me, because even through the hood you could feel this push of energy.

‘I started talking to her. We talked about painting. She took me to another room and she had this huge collection of paints. She told me to do a painting in her house, so I painted all over her mantelpiece. That night we became good friends.’

He says he lives the best of lives because he loves what he does.

‘I have made a life from my passion, and every day I smile.’

Surely there must be some down side… He pauses, then grins.

‘Jealousy. That is the hardest thing.’