Despite being surrounded by Miami’s well-heeled art crowd at an opening at the Miami Art Museum, Domingo Zapata looks like he’s been painting houses all day—splashes of oil paint seem permanently affixed to his hands and brow. The insouciance may stem from the fact that he’s become the darling of billionaire art collectors and Hollywood stars (he’s one of 30 living artists whose pieces have sold in the six figures). “Johnny Depp came to my show in LA, and I was like, Wow. He hadn’t been to a show in 10 years. He ended up buying 10 pieces,” says Zapata, whose other celebrity clients include Leonardo DiCaprio, Orlando Bloom, and Sofia Vergara. This level of success wasn’t always the case for the recent Miami transplant. Growing up in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, Zapata started in the decidedly more staid world of finance before networking his way into the music industry. (He worked alongside Michael Jackson and is credited with cowriting the lyrics to the “Macarena” song. Yes, that one.)
Never truly fulfilled, he enrolled in Regents College in London and later American University in Washington, DC, studying contemporary and studio art, and embarking on a career as a painter. In 2005, billionaire investor George Soros, while perusing a Hamptons art show, stumbled upon Zapata and his work—big, colorful, visceral paintings evoking impressionistic graffiti—and bought a piece from his Polo series. Zapata was catapulted into a rarefied world of buyers. Five years later, Soros’s purchase has quintupled in price.
Zapata splits his time between his home in New York City, his studio at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, and now Miami Beach, where he has rented a home in the Venetian Islands. He also recently created a massive 35-foot by 15-foot mural at the Wynwood Walls. The piece was on display there for a short time before being sold to an undisclosed buyer, who plans on unveiling it at its new permanent home on South Beach, just prior to this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach.
Miami has charmed Zapata, so much so that he’s converted a section of his residence into a studio and private gallery space—“Viva Zapata,” as he calls it—where he can entertain potential clients by appointment and paint alongside Biscayne Bay sunsets. “This city has really influenced me; I incorporated more yellows and sky blues.” Of his recent work, he says, “I wanted it to be very aggressive and very sexy—that’s what Miami inspires me to do. It’s like sweat and mojitos and la playa and salsa, you know?”