When Philippe Hoerle-Guggenheim decided to open a second branch of his New York-based gallery, HG Contemporary, in Madrid, he didn’t have to think too long or too hard about which of his artists would inaugurate the space.
He turned to Domingo Zapata, a 43-year-old neo-pop painter known equally for his adventurous art and his lavish, celebrity-filled lifestyle.
Zapata had recently completed “Smile,” a collaborative body of work with Alejandro Sanz, a Spanish musician with 17 Latin Grammy’s (and three American Grammy’s) to his name. The show opened at the gallery’s New York location this spring, before moving on to Madrid.
Domingo Zapata (center) and Philippe Hoerle-Guggenheim (right) at the opening of “Smile” at HG Contemporary, 2018. Courtesy of HG Contemporary.
The decision was easy. For one, both Zapata and Sanz are Spanish—Sanz was born in Madrid itself, while Zapata comes from Palma de Mallorca. The two old friends happened to run into each other in Guatemala three years ago and have been collaborating on the work for “Smile” since. Despite each living and working in several different locales throughout the year, the two made time to meet up to work together—often in Miami and New York.
“It’s an exciting start for the gallery,” Hoerle-Guggenheim tells artnet News. “Domingo and Alejandro created a body of work together that is exciting and eccentric, yet refined. I also see a lot of Picasso in the work, with its Cubist elements. The room is filled with energy.”
Alejandro Sanz and Domingo Zapata, The Royal Family (2018). Courtesy of HG Contemporary.
Beyond his Spanish heritage, Zapata was a good choice to open the Madrid space for another reason, too: He is well-known for throwing impressive opening parties. In 2012, for instance, he hosted a party at Art Basel Miami Beach that famously drew over 2,000 guests, including several celebrities.
“I like to have fun and put on a good show,” Zapata says, laughing. “Maybe I should just become a DJ!”
According to Hoerle-Guggenheim, the opening of “Smile” was a similarly raucous affair, with hundreds of people turning out. Meanwhile, Zapata was running around the gallery, finishing a handful of works and painting a Las Meninas sculpture—one of many such sculptures installed around Madrid for a public project.
The opening of “Smile” at HG Contemporary, 2018. Courtesy of HG Contemporary.
Zapata has dabbled in a variety of fields, from fashion and writing to music and business. He worked as the chairman of a Spanish-language record label and co-wrote the lyrics to an updated version of “Macarena.” He even ran an Alice in Wonderland-themed bar for a spell. Along the way, he has worked with many creatives. But “Smile” was the first time he collaborated with another person on painting.
“The process was great,” he recalls. “We obviously come from different backgrounds, but we have one thing in common: a strong sense of composition.”
Sanz would draw the underlying sketches, and Zapata would add the paint and texture—the “expressionistic touches,” he calls them. The duo turned out a diverse group of paintings for the show—from a sextet of defaced Mona Lisas to a painted recreation of a much-discussed incident when an argument between Spain’s Queen Letizia and her mother-in-law, Queen Sofía, was captured on video.
“‘Smile’ is the celebration of life, of love, of friendship,” Zapata said in a statement for the show’s press release. “It represents the muse through the smiles, the faces of the people. We have dedicated the work to all those people who go through our lives that remain in our subconscious…”
Alejandro Sanz and Domingo Zapata,
Obsesión Clásica (2018). Courtesy of HG Contemporary.
Though he has already enjoyed more financial success in his 15-year career than most artists will experience in a lifetime, Zapata hasn’t yet been fully embraced by the often-insular New York art world. But that’s okay with him.
“I just want to be this way forever,” the laid-back Spaniard says. “I just want to keep expressing myself. I just want to be able to paint and create and share the work. It speaks to my art and my soul.”
That’s not to say that he’s losing his ambition. In fact, Zapata is currently working on his most ambitious project yet: a mobile exhibition that he hopes to take to as many small towns in America as he can. The show, which he likens to a traveling circus, will be housed in a large tent and will feature several rooms inside, each offering different “experiences.” Some rooms will feature painting, others will showcase new video work, and still others will offer performance pieces. One such room will feature a live-action recreation of the bullfighters that appear in many of his canvases, replete with professional flamenco dancers.
The project is still in its early planning stages, but Zapata estimates that it might be on the road as early as next spring. And he’s already begun much of the artwork that will be included.
“A lot of people don’t have the opportunity to go to New York or Miami or London or Paris to see a show,” Zapata says. “So I’m going to bring it to them.”
Domingo Zapata’s Las Meninas sculpture. Courtesy of HG Contemporary.
“Smile” is on view at HG Contemporary in Madrid through July 14, 2018.