Michael Saviello sat on a little stool in a Chelsea art gallery wiping sweat from his forehead as his new gallerists breathlessly praised his latest paintings. Mr. Saviello, known to everyone as Big Mike, was taking the day off from Astor Place Hairstylists, the East Village barber shop he has managed since 1987. He was preparing for his first solo show, which would mark his debut to the New York art world.
And from the sound of it, the New York art world wanted a piece of Big Mike.
“You can instantly tell this is a Saviello,” said Guillo Pérez, gesturing to Mr. Saviello’s painting of Tupac Shakur wearing a bandanna. “You can see this was painted by someone chiseled from the effects of life. Every brush stroke has a human fingerprint.” He added: “Mike is not some young buck. He’s not some nobody. Big Mike is a mover and shaker. We start him at $5,000.”
He was joined by another gallerist, Blake Emory, who stood before a painting Mr. Saviello made of his wife, Harriett, an elementary schoolteacher, surrounded by flowers. “Mike’s work incites controversy,” he said. “How dare he use such colors?”