Studio Visit

The Artist Whose Work Hangs In Leonardo DiCaprio’s and Jay-Z’s Homes

Brazilian-born contemporary painter Christian Rosa will be legendary, just wait.

By: Noah Lehava
Photography: Tristan Kallas

There’s nothing but a vast, inconspicuous field of industrial buildings surrounding Christian Rosa’s studio in downtown L.A. The only signifier that we were in the right place was a big black gate that slowly slid open as we approached it. Behind it was a massive, airy warehouse with ceilings so high they made Rosa’s 20-foot canvases look like they could fit in your living room.

Brazilian-born, Vienna-raised, L.A-based (you following?) Rosa’s large-scale contemporary paintings—think abstract geometric shapes in bold colors, fine scribble pencil marks, and casual strokes over a foot long—are currently hanging in the homes of the likes of Jay-Z and Leonardo DiCaprio. “Sometimes he assists—he’s really into painting,” Rosa tells us nonchalantly of DiCaprio while smoking cigarette after cigarette on the couch in the middle of his studio. There’s a life-size cutout of Arnold Schwarzenegger wearing Rosa’s paint-covered smock hovering behind us. “I should invite him to the studio, too,” he jokes, pointing at it. But, really, he should!

Before we continue talking about everything from how he breaks through a creative block to his evolution as an artist, and why projects like Hooper Project and Grande Vista, which give rising artists the opportunity to showcase their works, are important to him, he asked if he could grab his skateboard and let his dogs roam free. Yes, of course!


“I think I was 25 [years old] when I started painting. I was actually a photographer before. I was assisting a friend of mine on fashion shoots, and then I moved to Barcelona. I wanted to start studying photography, but then I applied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. I got denied for the photo class because I was too advanced. There was this class called ‘Extended Painting Room’—basically, you could paint, but you could also create videos and photography and all kinds of things. The professor from the photo class said, ‘Why don’t you try this instead?’ This was Daniel Richter's class, a very famous German painter that became a really good friend and a mentor to me.”

“Daniel Richter told me that because I didn’t know anything about painting, it was the best way to approach painting. He told me, ‘You’re like an empty canvas and can go from there.’ It wasn't really advice, but it was a good way to get into it.”

“The first thing I painted was a huge canvas. It was a figurative painting. It was two people standing in a room doing something, but you couldn’t really tell what they were doing.”

“For me it becomes easier to do a long stroke than to do small lines. It feels more natural to do bigger strokes.”

“In terms of evolving, the paintings I was doing before had a lot of negative space and emptiness. Now, I am trying to fill all of this negative space with color or subjects of what I’m thinking. I think that’s a big evolution in my work.”

“When I sold a painting at an art fair and I was like, ‘Wow, people are really interested.’ Then, I started making money with it. Moving to the United States, moving to L.A., this was like six or seven years ago, made it real.”

“I started meeting my broad band of friends through my work, and we became all really good friends. I just signed a deal with Roc Nation through Jon Lieberberg, the friend of Jay-Z, and he became a really good friend.”

“[The most surreal moment] was when I was showing my new work in 2013 at the Frieze Art Fair. It was my first big gallery. They had a booth with my works, and all of the big galleries came to see my art. People like Leonardo DiCaprio were there and were hunting me down at the fair. I ran into him and he was like, ‘You’re Rosa, right?’ I’m like, ‘yeah.’ He was like, ‘You’re rolling with us now.’ This was pretty surreal, people coming up to you like that.”

“[Leonardo DiCaprio] has a few pieces. We became really good friends. Sometimes he assists— he’s really into painting.”

“I’m always inspired by my surroundings; my friends, my family, my enemies, surfing, good food, living really well.”

“I used to spend all summer in Brazil with my aunt or with my mom in our house. Of course growing up in Austria as a Brazilian is a whole different thing. Through moving to Austria, I think I had a really good education, that really influenced my whole life—moving to schools in Europe and going to University in Europe. Over there, it’s all about talent.”

“Right now, my creative process is finding new ways to extend my language or bring it to a new level. I use all the little things that I was using in my language, but I approach it in a different way. I’m trying to take this emptiness away and fill up the canvas. The canvas is not raw anymore, it’s primed, so it pops in your face. The approach now is slightly 180-degrees the other way because before, I had nothing under it. I'm just coming up with ideas and seeing what happens. It’s a lot of trying and seeing if it works or if it doesn’t. From all of these little problematic things, you can always take a little piece and put together a new puzzle and work with that.”

“If I have a creative block, I go surf or I have a music record label, so I try to find musical artists and get in contact with them, get them excited, and try to get them deals with major labels. I’ll do something totally outside [of painting]. I also have a film production company. I produced two feature films last year. I’ll just go and do something else and have fun in that world until my head is like, ‘Wow, I have an idea again.’ Then, I’ll get back to it.”

“[My advice for struggling artists is] just work, work, work. Do art shows in small project spaces. If the work is strong enough, people will approach you. Just make it all about the work. Socializing is also a part of it, but the work is the most important. [It should] speak for itself.”

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