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Tony Soprano lives on — on canvas

Artist Marco Toro, who specializes in visages of celebrities, will display his painting of actor Gandolfini locally.

July 25, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • Ed Bobinski, senior art consultant and co-director of the Village Gallery, poses for a photo with paintings by artist Marco Toro in Laguna Beach on Tuesday. Bobinski was a former agent to Toro for 4-years, from 2004 to 2008, and the two have been good friends ever since.
Ed Bobinski, senior art consultant and co-director of… (KEVIN CHANG, Coastline…)

When news reports announced that "Sopranos" star James Gandolfini had died, Marco Toro reached for the best coping mechanism he had: a brush and canvas.

The London artist, an avid fan of the long-running HBO series, has made a career largely from painting celebrities, from Kiefer Sutherland to the Rolling Stones. In the past, Toro had painted the Sopranos as a group, but now that Gandolfini — which is to say, Tony — was gone, he set to work on a portrait of the leading man.

The finished work, which will go on display Aug. 1 at the Village Gallery, is fittingly spectral for a recently deceased celebrity. In shadowy black and white, Gandolfini peers through dark glasses, his left hand adjusting the frames as if sizing up the viewer. Only a sliver of a white shirt is visible, with the black suit jacket blending into the featureless background.

"He was one of my favorites," Toro, an exhibitor at the gallery for nine years, said by phone from England. "He was very popular over here, and such a good actor."

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The Gandolfini portrait will join images of Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix, Albert Einstein and others at the Village Gallery's Laguna Beach location. A similar exhibit will run concurrently at the Irvine sister gallery. Toro, who is sometimes billed as the "Prince of Pop Art," will split his time between the two galleries during the show, which runs through Aug. 26.

According to Edward Bobinski, the gallery's co-director, the asking price for the Gandolfini portrait is $1,495. Given "The Sopranos'" fan base, plus the interest following the actor's death, it seems likely that the gallery will find at least one interested buyer.

A deeper question is whether Gandolfini, who will share wall space in Laguna with other stars who died young, will become as iconic an image as Monroe or Hendrix. Cecile Whiting, who chairs UC Irvine's art history department and has written books on pop art, said doomed celebrities more often become poster or T-shirt fodder if they're viewed as tragic — if their demise can be linked to suicide or misadventure, for example, or if they projected a fragile or rebellious persona.

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