You've Never Seen Beyoncé Look Like This

Would you dedicate 60 hours of your life to Beyoncé?

Long Island native and rising New York University junior Christopher Minafo turned his admiration for the singer into something unbelievable: He painted a full-wall portrait of her over the 14 days leading up to his birthday.

“It was a week before I was turning 20, and I wanted one more sort-of farewell to my teenage years,” the self-taught artist told Refinery29. What came was a larger-than-life image that caught the attention of art fanatics (it was featured during this year's Select Art Fair) and social media followers alike.

Minafo, who now has portraits of famous women such as Rihanna, Christina Aguilera, Ariana Grande, Cara Delevingne, Taylor Swift, and Lady Gaga under his belt, is quickly rising to the top as a young New Yorker breaking into the art world. But can an artist obsessed with celebrities become one in his own right? We caught up with him in a studio space at NYU to chat about art as a therapy, that Beyoncé painting, and the world's fascination with celebrity culture.
Photographed by Nicholas Calcott.
Let's talk about growing up. Was there always a fascination with both art and celebrities?
“I was into both, for sure. It was maybe right around my parents' divorce that I picked up art, and it was totally one of those coping mechanisms that I fell in love with. I would pour myself into my sketchbook, and they were horrible [laughs]. But somehow, my parents decided that they were going to keep supporting it, and eventually, as I did it more and more...there was just one breakout drawing. I think it might have been of my little sister; she was probably around two years old, so I was 13 or a little bit younger than that. But from that point, [my parents] were like, 'Wow, this is something you need to follow, because it’s starting to get really good.'

"I worked in black-and-white until high school; I think in ninth grade I switched to color. I tried colored pencils first, and after that I went to painting. That's what I stayed with, and I was always trying to make my work as strong as possible. But throughout the entire thing, it was always celebrities. When you’re in an art setting, they always tell you to move past celebrities, that it’s not a mature subject matter to handle. But I saw so much more in it."

"I had to use Beyoncé. How can you even fathom how much she can do?"

You've branded yourself as this incredible photorealist. How did you end up on that path?
"When I was growing up, I felt like the only way to get better at art was to get more realistic; to add more detail and make it more easily identifiable as a person. I had the idea that the closer I could get my painting to a photograph, the more people would be impressed. And since I wasn’t in the art world as a kid, I didn’t really even know that was what I was going for.

"For anyone, photorealism is crazy. It’s still crazy to me. When I go into museums, the pieces I am always drawn to are the photorealistic ones. It just blows me away; I can’t imagine how people can add that much detail. I guess it’s tied to perfectionism, in a way, because there’s never a chance that you are there fully. You can always get more realistic, you can always go bigger. It never stops, and you can always keep growing."
Photographed by Nicholas Calcott.

Do you remember the first celebrity you painted?
"Anne Hathaway was the first, and I did it larger than I had ever done anything. I took this large sheet of paper that I was definitely not ready for, and I just sat down with it. She had just done The Princess Diaries, and I was in love with the movie. I also loved that on the off chance that she (or any of the other celebrities) ever do see my pieces, that it’s totally a thank you for being a part of a project that made me…not bored [laughs]. I really just paint who I’m watching the most, or who’s influenced me the most.”

With so many portraits under your belt now, is there one that stands out, or one person that has really had such a strong effect on your life?
“That’s definitely why I chose this large portrait of Beyoncé. Any time I’m walking on the street or doing art itself, I always put on Beyoncé. There’s something so incredible about the way she can help anything. She is so powerful, and she makes me awestruck. Coming to this point in my artistry and wanting to prove to myself the most I can do, I had to use Beyoncé. How can you even fathom how much she can do?"
Photographed by Nicholas Calcott.
Is it funny that Beyoncé kind of watches you as you sleep?
"It’s amazing. I was just staring at it this morning."

I would probably pray to her at night.
"I don't do the full-down prayer. It's definitely more of a silent hymn [laughs]. Also, it wasn’t a celebrity picture, but another piece I’m most proud of is my self-portrait, where I was wearing a hat and I have black hair and a beard. I actually painted the entire thing with my fingers as a little challenge to myself. It was the first time I put down my brush. I’m always thinking about talent as, ‘Is it the tools, or is it the artist?’ So if you take out the brushes, then you only have the hands. To me, if you take out the hands and only have the feet, can you still do it? I'm always giving myself these little challenges."
Photographed by Nicholas Calcott.
Have you gotten the chance to give any of the celebrities your work?
"I have. I actually...this is a crazy story. I knew I was going to a Sara Bareilles [concert], and she is a huge celebrity to me. She was doing a free concert on Long Island by my hometown, and I spent the entire week beforehand doing this drawing and making it as good as possible.

"I showed up at 3 a.m. for a 7 p.m. concert, and I blew up the picture and put it on a really big poster, in case I couldn't get backstage and she would only see it from the crowd. It turns out when you wait that long, you get to make friends with everyone setting up the show; and they said they would help me get backstage, no problem. So I did, and one of my friends took a video of me geeking out and handing her this picture. She was like, 'How long did it take you,' and she gave me a big hug. It was big for me, because Sara Bareilles is just another one of those people. I love her music; it just moves me."

"I love celebrity culture, and I want to be part of that."

Why do you think your work resonates with so many different people?
"The same way I love how everyone can appreciate photorealism, everyone can relate to and appreciate a celebrity. The same way that I love celebrities, everyone else loves celebrities. I’m not shy about the fact that I love social media. And people are more inclined to like a photo with someone they know in it, rather than someone like my uncle.

"For me, it’s entirely aspirational. I would love that, if I’m not working hand-in-hand with celebrities, to be one myself. I love celebrity culture, and I want to be part of that. It's a different realm; it’s not better or worse. It’s just an experience that people get to feel."
Photographed by Nicholas Calcott.
What are you working on currently?
"I have an Ellen DeGeneres piece in process. She’s a totally supportive arts person and is always looking to move the arts forward. She also acknowledges when people who aren’t celebrities are doing great things. You know, that's what anyone wants. Not being a celebrity, to think there’s a person out there who wants to grab them and bring them into the realm.

"I'm also really into fashion. I do a lot of fashion design. I took on shoes recently. I’m super influenced by Alexander McQueen. Lady Gaga has gotten a lot of credit for the things that she wears. Yes, she's brave enough to step out in that outfit, but who's actually making it? And a lot of times, it was Giuseppe Zanotti or McQueen. But just like photorealism, there’s no denying all of the embellishments and all of the feathers that this man put into his work. It was gorgeous. And that’s who drives me in any sort of wearable kind of direction. That's my goal as an artist — as much detail or embellishments, or as much anything, in as tasteful a way as possible."

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