“I remember driving down Sunset Boulevard with my parents as a little girl and looking out the window to see the Tower Records sign. It's a true honor to have my work displayed on the walls of this landmark.”- Gena Milanesi.
Since Gibson Brands took over LA’s iconic Tower Records building, the guitar giant has both revitalized the landmark’s nostalgic place in music history (taking it back to a Guns N' Roses era exhibit last April) and has also re-vamped it as a venue for showcasing new talents of all types. Recently, the venue brought together LA icons from all worlds of sports, music and celebrity culture in a fascinating showcase featuring Gena Milanesi’s fine art.
Milanesi is a Los Angeles native and self-taught painter renowned for her portraits of celebrated athletes and musicians, and her signature style of abstract realism. A style that blends oils, acrylics and other mixed mediums, and uses bold colors and powerful strokes to create a “remastered” version of reality. But what truly distinguishes Milanesi’s work is her way of capturing the unique relationship between subject and artist - in her own straightforward style.
For instance, she incorporates actual guitar picks into her painted replications of Gibson guitars and in her portraits of Gibson ambassadors, Slash and BB King. She takes her technique even further in the world of sports, where celebrated athletes are both subjects and participants in their own portraits. Depending on their sport of trade, they leave their signature marks on the canvas using paint-covered basketballs, soccer balls or boxing gloves.
Not only has her bold and versatile style captured an international audience with exhibitions in New York, London and Miami’s Art Basel, Milanesi has also earned an A-list clientele that includes The Game, Dr. Dre, Chris Paul, Landon Donovan, Steph Curry, Jerry West, Manny Pacquiao, Robert Shapiro, Khloe Kardashian, and many others. In addition to her partnership with Gibson Brands, her spectrum of corporate clients include, Sony ATV Publishing, ESPN, Budweiser, Casamigos Tequila, Veterinary Clinics of America, and Bloomingdales. She also collaborates with charity organizations such as the Hero Dog Awards and the Brent Shapiro Foundation.
Milanesi explains that her two biggest lifelong passions have always been art and sports, but it wasn’t until after she attended USC that she found a way to unite them in a perfect marriage and establish her niche as an artist. After two years of painting full-time and building an impressive list of private clients, Milanesi’s career fully bloomed in 2015, when a special request from Robert Shapiro put her work on the world stage.
“Bob has always been a huge boxing fan and he wanted to give Manny Pacquiao a good luck gift before the big fight with Floyd Mayweather,” she explains. “He had me paint a speed bag with Floyd’s face on it and I even used a special varnish so that it could withstand Manny’s blows. Manny got a kick out of it and hung in his training space at the Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles, which of course got a rise out of Floyd. The media went wild with the story and next thing you know I was being featured on TMZ Sports, Huffington Post and outlets all over the world.”
Milanesi went on to paint portraits for other celebrated athletes and the “Lakers Evolution” mural commissioned by The Game. While working on the project, she had the opportunity to meet several of his friends who would stop by the house and check out the mural in progress. Such encounters lead her to do personal portraits for other major artists such as Dr. Dre, E-40 and Steve Angello, and for reality TV star, Khloe Kardashian. “Khloe came by the house a few times while I was working on the mural and I really got to like her,” Milanesi reveals. “Her energy is refreshing and she’s the type of person who just puts you in a really good mood when you talk to her. I painted three watercolors of her using photos from that famous boxing training shoot she did with Complex magazine. She loved them.”
With her impressive spectrum of paintings lining the walls of Tower Records and music setting the vibe, Milanesi’s solo show packed the entire venue with a crowd of all types. The highlight of the event was the debut of Milanesi’s most recent collaboration project with LA Clippers’ Chris Paul and American renowned soccer player, Landon Donovan. The project consists of two video installations, showing her creative process at work with each athlete. In “Hoops,” (watch video), she lines an outdoor basketball court with a paper canvas and plays ball with Paul using basketballs dipped in paint. In “Goals,” (watch video), she lines the walls of her studio in paper canvas and her and Donovan go to town, kicking paint covered soccer balls at the walls.
“A lot of people are intimidated by the unknown of art and I had a vision of how I could break that barrier with audiences by bringing out the artistic sides of two celebrated athletes,” Milanesi explains. “They were actually a little nervous at first, not knowing what to expect, but it was a really organic process that allowed them to loosen up and they both ended up having a lot of fun with it,” she adds. “Landon even said to me afterwards, ‘I understand why you paint. It’s like sports, where you have to be fully present and nothing else matters.’”
Milanesi says the ultimate end goal in all of her work is to get those reactions from her clients and bring those moments of happiness to others.