Brushes With Fame

Artist David Garibaldi has been wowing Sacramento crowds for years with his full-throttle live performances. But now this one-time graffiti-loving troublemaker is going global with the world’s largest entertainment company. Meet the man who’s putting the “dope” in Dopey.

Garibaldi in his West Sacramento art studio

Garibaldi in his West Sacramento art studio

Photo By Max Whittaker

(page 1 of 2)

DDavid Garibaldi prowls the stage in front of a huge black canvas, the bright lights making his shaved head glisten. When the bass-and-drum beat kicks in, he thrusts forward, a paintbrush gripped in each hand. Sometimes delicately, sometimes violently, he strokes the canvas. A swash of blue here. A slash of white there. After about half a minute, he steps back and stares at the still indistinct image, swinging his arms side to side to the music’s rhythm, his dark T-shirt rippling across his rangy frame. The crowd’s murmur builds. A moment later, he stalks in again, first bending down to stab his brushes into containers of paint at the foot of the canvas, then uncoiling upward and attacking once more. A portrait starts to emerge. There’s part of a face in profile topped by a shock of dark hair. Who is it? Kanye West? Jimi Hendrix? Elvis?

During a typical 45-minute show, Garibaldi may paint all three, plus one or two more—Marilyn Monroe, Bob Marley or another of the more than 100 celebs whose visage he can create in a fast and furious five or six minutes, taking time between each portrait to chat up the audience. It’s a hypnotic and physical display, Jackson Pollock meets hip-hop. Which is to say, there isn’t a whole lot about what he does that screams... Disney. Garibaldi paints Kanye West during a performance for the Special Olympics in June 2008 at UC Berkeley. (Photo by Molly McClure)

But here’s the thing: After watching one of Garibaldi’s shows in Las Vegas in 2007, execs from Disney Fine Art, one of the entertainment company’s farthest-reaching attempts at serious art, tapped the Sacramento painter turned international pop-culture sensation to take part in the program. They have commissioned him to paint Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and other famous Disney characters in his singularly kinetic style, making him one of only 26 artists worldwide to be chosen for the venture.

“They’re really introducing me to a whole new audience,” says the 26-year-old Garibaldi, who lives in Elk Grove with his wife, Joy, a few miles from the Vintage Park home where he grew up. “And at the same time, they’re introducing their audience to me.” As part of that ongoing introduction, Garibaldi will paint three Disney characters during a June 13 show at Stage Nine art gallery in Old Sacramento.

The Disney deal marks just the latest success for a rock-and-roll performance painter whose fusion of creativity and commerce has ignited a suddenly soaring career. He has coveted agreements with the estates of Presley, Hendrix and Marley to sell his posters and portraits of those late music icons in exchange for royalty fees. He’s had face time on MTV. Then there’s his L.A.-based clothing line (he came to a recent interview wearing a Garibaldi “Obama Quest” T-shirt). He’s also opened for Snoop Dogg and performed with Tommy Lee, and last year he dropped by the Playboy Mansion, where Hugh Hefner sat for a portrait. All of that in addition to a tour of Canada with the world-renowned Blue Man Group that began last fall and resumes in October.

So it’s a rock-star life?

“Without the egos,” Garibaldi says with a soft laugh, sipping iced tea at Temple coffee house downtown, not far from his studio loft in West Sacramento. On a typical non-touring day, he arrives at the studio by 10 a.m. and spends several hours tending to business matters with Joy, who he speaks of as his muse, manager and strongest supporter. Then he heads upstairs to sketch or paint, sometimes staying as late as 10 p.m., driven by a passion that, in a kind of happy accident, has also made him a global brand, with art auction sites like The Collection Shop selling his originals for as much as $17,000. “People would probably laugh about it,” he says, “but to this day, I don’t have a business plan.”