Spring 2016

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120 Venice outh Florida artist Carlos Betancourt proudly uses his art to bare himself to the world, both literally and figuratively. Almost salaciously, his titillating works provide unfettered access to his deepest memories, most scandalous desires and most flamboyant excesses to reveal a man infatuated with life itself. Betancourt's story is quintessentially American. His parents were Cuban exiles living in Puerto Rico who moved to Miami in the early 1980s to improve work prospects for themselves and their son. It was a time of diametric shift in the city, which was experiencing growing pains after nearly 125,000 Cuban immigrants fled to the United States. This sudden onset caused racial tensions in an already fragile ecosystem. No longer the prom queen she once was, South Florida looked haggard and used. The beach was seedy, cheap and perfect for a young bohemian. An effortless conversationalist, Betancourt's passions and vigor spring forth, evincing a life filled with travel and nature, family and friends, and genuine veneration for how he came to be. Speaking with a Caribbean lilt, Betancourt giddily reminisces about when conceptual installation artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude surrounded 11 islands in Biscayne Bay with 6.5 million square feet of pink fabric. The year was 1983, and 17-year-old Betancourt did not know who the artists were. He merely raised his hand when asked if he wanted be one of many junior volunteers stretching meters of floating polypropylene around the bay. Upon realizing the importance of being part of art history, Betancourt became a self-proclaimed "groupie," and he evolved an artistic trajectory that drove him forward. As the world swirled around him, Betancourt, who graduated from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, found peace by surrounding himself with fellow creatives: artists, poets, drag queens, comedians, musicians and the other colorful personalities frequently orbiting Miami Beach. His dingy 1,000-square- foot Lincoln Road studio was dubbed "Imperfect Utopia," a metaphor for what South Florida was at the time. It became the nucleus of a cultural renaissance that decades later would culminate in December's Art Basel Miami Beach. What New York's CBGB was to punk music and Barcelona's Els Quatre Gats was for Surrealism, Betancourt's Imperfect Utopia perhaps became a burgeoning art scene in a city that yearned for a cultural catharsis. Imperfect Utopia, he states, "was a great platform because it was completely open to invention." Betancourt's effusive energy and open-door studio attracted a broad spectrum of like-minded individuals whose unique stories and experiences colored his perceptions, informed his art and fertilized his creativity. Famed MiMo architect Morris Lapidus visited the studio often and regaled Betancourt with stories of Miami's Golden Age, when he was designing the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc hotels and turning Lincoln Road into the pedestrian mall Betancourt called home. Carlos Betancourt's glittery story guides a South Florida art revival. BY REED V. HORTH PORTRAITS BY RYAN STONE S RENAISSANCE MAN

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