Tony Soprano lives on — on canvas

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."

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.

Gandolfini, who died of a heart attack at age 51 and led a relatively low-key life offscreen, may not amass the same cult of personality, Whiting said. She noted, though, that the Tony Soprano character may take on a life of its own — much the way that Al Pacino's "Scarface" role, which also adorns a canvas in Toro's show, has become ubiquitous.

"There's sort of a fascination with the male outlaw, and maybe that's how they become iconic," Whiting said.

Outlaws or not, Toro has found inspiration in Hollywood for years, and it was in Los Angeles that he became acquainted with the Village Gallery a decade ago. With business slow for his celebrity portraits in England, Toro flew to Southern California and visited galleries there, and he found an interested partner in Bobinski, who ran a location at the time on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

"The rest is history," Toro said. "He liked my paintings."

If You Go

What: Paintings by Marco Toro

Where: Village Gallery, 502 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach (Irvine location at 59 Fortune Drive, Suite 338, Irvine Spectrum Center)

When: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday (Laguna Beach); 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday (Irvine). Opening reception 6 to 9 p.m. Aug. 1 in Laguna Beach

Cost: Free

Information: (949) 494-3553 or

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