As a child, Jeanine Brito spent summers with her grandparents in Mainz, Germany, surrounded by castles better suited to Bram Stoker’s Dracula than any fairy tale. Back at school in Calgary, where she grew up, Brito channelled all that gothic inspiration into art. “The bulk of my drawings were of princesses wearing insane dresses,” she says.
Brito says she hung out with “a lot of freaks” at Calgary’s arts-focused Central Memorial High School, painting surreal portraits of her friends during lunch hour. Still, she didn’t aspire to art-world stardom; she was focused on fashion. “My idea of that world was entirely based on The Devil Wears Prada—deciding between near-identical turquoise belts, flying to Paris,” she says. “It seemed so glamorous in contrast to art, which involves a lot of struggle.” Brito studied fashion communication at Toronto Metropolitan University, and later ran the online fashion magazine Sophomore. She applied her graphic-design expertise to various jobs, but quickly grew disillusioned by corporate constraints. “I was desperate for an outlet—something I could build for myself,” she says.
Mid-pandemic, Brito resumed painting and posted some of her better attempts on her Instagram account—beautiful yet terrifying pieces depicting raw meat and knives juxtaposed against frilly ribbons and pearls. She quit her job early in 2022 to paint full-time, planning to take freelance design gigs to pay the bills. Her career took off almost instantly.
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Within a month, Brito received an email from La Causa Galería in Madrid asking her to present a solo show. More invites followed, including an offer from Nicodim Gallery in Los Angeles, her current agency, to participate in a group show last September. This past spring, French fashion house Nina Ricci commissioned several of Brito’s works to be printed on postcards. One image—a docile lamb cuddled up to a gleaming candy-pink apple—wowed creative director Harris Reed so much that he sent it down the runway printed on two dresses during the brand’s fall-winter 2023 show.
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Brito’s career has taken on its own fairy-tale quality, minus the gruesome elements. She says her freakish teen self would be thrilled at the opportunities before her: an American debut at New York’s Armory art fair this fall, plus a solo show of brand-new work in the Big Apple slated for next May. She’s also hoping for an exhibition here in Canada, working away on her craft in her downtown Toronto studio. “I’m always pushing myself to try things that scare me,” she says.
—Isabel B. Slone
PROSPECT POP QUIZ
Colour palette: “I mix everything from five shades: medium yellow, cadmium red, ultramarine blue, phthalocyanine blue and raw umber.”
Studio snack: Pistachio gelato from Toronto restaurant Sud Forno
Moving picture: “ ‘The Birthday,’ an oil painting by Russian artist Marc Chagall, makes me cry.”
Power suit: A 1980s vintage black-and-white taffeta party dress from Mama Loves You Vintage in Toronto
Idea generator: “When I don’t know what to paint, I write the names of random objects on a set of cards. I pull three and make a sketch featuring those elements.”