After years of success, Shaker Heights artist Bruce Conforti is still going strong
Story by Alyssa Schmitt
Bruce Conforti describes himself as three things: a father, a painter and a businessman. It’s a mix of those identities that has fueled his decades-long career as a full-time painter whose work can be found in homes and offices across the country and in Europe.
His clients, which come largely by word-of-mouth, range from major corporations to superstar athletes, including former Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star Kyrie Irving, who had a Conforti painting hanging at his Westlake home before being traded to the Boston Celtics.
There are no signs of slowing down for Conforti, either. In early April, he had four months’ worth of commissioned work lined up and was putting the finishing touches on a 5-by-8-foot work that will hang in two pieces at The Carnegie Group office in Solon.
“I worked really hard in my life to get to this position where people seek me out to paint,” Conforti says. “It’s nice when you make people happy, too.”
Even after years of work, he hasn’t settled on a set process as he approaches a project, except for one part at the beginning. When the blank canvas sits in front of him, he immediately fills it with color, which he considers the most important factor to his work. After that, he gets ideas from what’s in front of him and builds on those.
“It’s all about color and creating illusions,” he says. “I want to create illusions by what I put down on the canvas and then I create like a three-dimensional look just by layering things.”
He describes his work as abstract expressionism but a new version – his version. When he’s not painting, he studies the works of other painters in the same realm. He finds ideas he likes and combines them with his own style.
At first glance, Conforti’s art may appear hectic. But as the viewer explores the crevasses made with each layer of color, a hierarchy emerges through his use of polygonal shapes and unpredictable lines, which brings the piece together. His works convey energy and succeed in commanding attention, serving as the focal point of any room in which they’re displayed.
After he’s done with a piece, what does he want people to take away when they see his work?
“Whatever they get is fine with me. If people hate my work, I love that too,” he says. “I want controversy, I don’t care. If people get violently angry when they see me and go, ‘Oh my kid can do that.’ God bless him. It doesn’t bother me.”
Past to present
Conforti’s life in art started when he was a child and his creativity was nurtured by his parents. His desire to pursue art took him to the Academy of Art College for Design in San Francisco, where he studied from 1973-75. It was there his interests shifted from realism to abstract art.
He eventually left San Francisco to spend eight months exploring the museums of western Europe. He then returned to the U.S., and in 1980, he graduated from the San Francisco Institute of Art with his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.
During that time, he got hooked on the business side of art. In 1974, a piece he had in a group show quickly received a red dot next to it, indicating someone had purchased it. He earned $500 for that piece, inspiring him to do more.
“I’m not only inspired to do the work, I’m inspired to get the paintings out there so someone else can see them,” says Conforti, whose home studio is in Shaker Heights. “Then, I’m inspired about making the money because money is a tool, you need it to do other things. For me, (it’s) so I can travel to visit my children.”
When he got more serious about selling his work in the 1990s, he identified cities in which he wanted to work, flew to them and stopped by galleries near affluent neighborhoods. He used his business skills –and a photo portfolio of his work he always kept handy – to work with the gallery owners. If they liked what they saw, he’d return to Cleveland and ship his work to them.
These days, his work isn’t seen in many galleries. In fact, the only business in Northeast Ohio that currently showcases his art is Surroundings Home Décor in downtown Cleveland’s Warehouse District.
As for the rest of Northeast Ohio, Conforti is discouraged by what he says is a lack of risks taken by area arts institutions. Overall, he feels the region’s art scene is great, but he’s eager to see younger artists with fresh perspectives make their mark.
“Cleveland is a great art scene but the city is too conservative,” he says, noting he’s in the planning phase of opening an auction house focused on promoting young artists.
As the change he seeks in the community unfolds, Conforti will continue to paint and improve upon his craft with each brushstroke.
“They say 10,000 hours and you become an expert. Well, I’ve been painting at least 50,000 hours,” he says. “I’m just saying, it’s my life. I love paint, (and) I love color.” CV
Lead image: Bruce Conforti uses the front room of his Shaker Heights home as a studio. Photo by Michael C. Butz