By Larry Atseff
You know Jim Fannin as a contributing writer for Hinsdale Magazine. You may also know him as America’s ZoneCoach®, with an international following of sports stars and business leaders. In both cases, he offers self-improvement techniques and tips that work for everyone…when followed. They work especially well for talented people who apply themselves, and become champions. As a result, Jim has personally developed a keen eye for talented people in sports and business…and yes, even in the art world, the subject of this article. In his travels, in off hours, because he likes art, Jim has made it a habit to stop in at art galleries.
One day in Miami Beach in the early 1980’s, after coaching several top tennis stars, he walked into one of several beachside galleries in Miami and an abstract painting caught his eye. He paid $200 for it. He asked who the artist was and was told, Romero Britto, a name no one had ever heard. Since Romero lived in Miami, Jim looked him up and found him, painting away. They chatted and Jim learned that Romero had recently arrived from Brazil, was in his 20’s, but was so poor, he couldn’t even afford canvas for his paintings, and was using old Miami Herald newspapers instead. Jim liked Romero and his work so much he offered to help promote him. They struck a deal: Jim took pictures of Britto’s paintings, and promised to show them to well-heeled tennis players and fans of tennis he met, as he coached. He would also show the photos to gallery owners. Jim helped Britto with the purchase of canvas and supplies, and even helped with a gallery opening Britto was planning in the Mayfair Hotel in Miami’s Coconut Grove fine arts neighborhood. In return, they would share in the sales of the works. Prior to the opening, Jim happened to be at Nobu restaurant in Miami and sitting at the sushi bar.
He struck up a conversation with a lady sitting next to him, and said he was in town for an art show opening. He showed the lady a picture of Britto’s work and she said she loved it. Turns out she was Picasso’s daughter, Paloma. Jim asked if she would attend the opening. She said she would and that turned out to be great publicity that packed the grand opening. Talk about serendipity. Little by little, over the next ten years or so, Britto art was gaining a following, despite an occasional setback when a gallery owner “didn’t recognize the potential” and as Jim said, “they would politely escort me out the door.” Britto, being inventive himself, started painting original art on T-shirts, and ties, and at $100 each, they became hot sellers as people framed them as art. One positive led to another. Absolut Vodka was planning an ad campaign using art on their bottles. They heard about Britto and started the campaign featuring his work. With that momentum, Jim said, it was time for Romero to get a real, full-time professional artist agent. And they agreed to part ways. Britto asked how they should settle up and Jim said “Just give me some paintings.” Romero gave Jim 24 paintings which Jim boxed up and put behind a curtain at his SCORE tennis club in Countryside which he promptly forgot as his business was also really taking off.
Fast forward to 2001. Jim and his daughter were shopping in Oak Brook and stopped in at a national gallery. His daughter pointed out a Britto tie for $250 and Jim suddenly remembered those paintings in Countryside. By happenstance, 5 years ago, at an Oak Brook Polo match, Jim met Sheryl Srivaslava, owner Acquisitions of Fine Art Gallery in Hinsdale. Today you can purchase your choice of several original Britto works at both the Hinsdale location, and the newly opened West Palm Beach gallery location. As it turns out, Jim keeps bumping into promising artists. Through a mutual friend, about a year ago, Jim met rock band song writer Robert Fleischman who was creating collages and paintings, long before Journey, and Asia and his numerous song contributions. Jim connected Robert with the gallery. You will be able to purchase Fleischman’s work at Acquisition’s West Palm Beach gallery as well. Recently, Burr Ridge neighbor Eve Ozer met Jim while he was on one of his regular “wisdom walks”. Eve showed him some of her artwork. Now, Eve’s work will also be on display in West Palm Beach. Serendipity can be a wonderful thing, especially when you combine it with an eye for talent.