Nightmare on Ocean Drive

At Level nightclub in South Beach on a Thursday night in late June, models pranced down the blood-red runway wearing sheer, hip-hugging sarongs below and body paint on top, outfits courtesy of Anastasia Monster of Art. On a stage the self-proclaimed “last of the Great Masters” splashed colors onto a canvas while two go-go girls dressed in cat suits danced to the blaring techno music. A crowd of partiers stood mesmerized, at times confused by the whirl of activity. “It was absolutely breathtaking,” says Gerry Kelly, a Miami Beach clothing designer, part owner of Level, and all-around clubland specter.

Anastasia is a nightlife temptress herself, with her cultivated Gothic look -- she often wears a cape in public and has long black hair, ashen skin, full red lips, and piercing blue eyes accentuated by exaggerated makeup -- and with her self-titled moniker, Monster of Art. She's also a Renaissance woman in a South Beach kind of way: By her own account she sculpts, restores cathedrals, designs clothing, paints, draws, plays the piano, composes, sings, takes photographs, models, and speaks nine languages, including Latin.

Anastasia also dabbles in car detailing. Parked outside Level that same evening was a limited-edition Monster of Art custom-designed Jaguar XJ8. This English luxury sedan made its official debut at North Miami-Dade's Warren Henry Jaguar back in May 1999. It features $40,000 worth of exterior and interior designs in 250 grams of 24-karat gold, accents in silver and bronze, gemstones, and hand-painted Greco-Roman images. The car retails for about $110,000, but so far no takers, says Warren Henry Zinn, the dealership owner.

Not that there haven't been a few inquiries. For instance Felix Trinidad, the boxer promoted by Mr. Showmanship himself Don King, almost bought the flashy Jag. But in a slightly embarrassing moment for dealer and artist, the boxer and his flamboyant promoter backed out at the last minute. In what was billed to be a star-studded event, members of the media, including Univision and Channel 10 (WPLG-TV), as well as members of the richer-than-average public filled the Warren Henry Jaguar dealership on a Friday night in July; they milled about and waited for the duo to arrive. And waited. The dealership's business manager, Jorge Villalon, betrayed some skepticism when he remarked, “Who would buy that? Lets hope Trinidad does.” But he didn't. The Anastasia-decorated ride, which she designed for “a warrior,” remained motionless in the showroom at the end of the evening, without a noble hero to drive it into the sunset. “They should have released it right in front of Versace's house, with all those rubies and all that gold,” said a press photographer who asked not to be identified. “It's a tad too much.”

Actually Anastasia has something else planned for that area in front of Versace's former home: a golden fountain. In fact all that glitters, especially if it is a tad too much, is what Anastasia sells and what, Trinidad aside, a number of South Florida celebrities and wannabes buy. The artist, who boasts both in person and in her promotional materials that she was born on the same day as Leonardo da Vinci, began weaving a web of gaudy art the moment she arrived from Italy three years ago; for the unabashed self-promoter, South Beach and its particular purveyors of style were a perfect fit. Perhaps her most famous client to date is Sylvester Stallone, who commissioned Monster of Art to paint Madonna di Stallone, a portrait of his wife, Jennifer Flavin, and their baby; any resemblance to a Renaissance painting of Mary and the Christ child is entirely intentional.

The 34-year-old model and former nightclub owner instantly fell in love with South Beach. “It's a paradise,” Anastasia says from her carpeted condo in South Beach, which doubles as an art studio and overlooks Star Island. The walls are covered with paintings, sketches of sculptures she plans to erect in public spaces, and computer printouts of photographs in which Anastasia is surrounded by the rich and famous. There's even one of her greeting Pope John Paul II. Inside a cage dangling from the ceiling is a three-month-old Amazon-green Brazilian parrot named Picasso that Anastasia says she will teach to be as multilingual as herself. She calls him her son. Next to the bird cage there's a small television set atop two plastic crates spray-painted gold; other crates are topped with gold sculptures. In the center of the living room is a leopard-print area rug. “When I come to South Beach I go crazy. Beautiful people, young, happy -- it's something magic,” Anastasia comments in her heavily accented English. “I became very interested to stay in Miami because Italy was full of art. Here I really can fill a big hole, because America is a new country and it gives me the possibility to build big monuments. Americans are very open because they're new. To South Beach I like to give a lot.”