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.

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Business plan or no, his ability to straddle two worlds as far apart as Playboy and Disney serves as a riposte to any critic who might dismiss Garibaldi’s act as a mere party trick. Indeed, Noka Aldoroty, director of Disney Fine Art—which is part of Southern California-based Collectors Editions, the line’s exclusive global publisher—regards Garibaldi and the man behind Mickey Mouse as kindred spirits. “Walt Disney once said, ‘I don’t pretend to know anything about art. I make pictures for entertainment,’ ” says Aldoroty, whose firm ships Garibaldi’s Disney works—which fetch anywhere from $500 for a signed print to $6,000 for an original—tGaribaldi in front of his portrait of Walt Disney with Walt’s nephew Roy E. Disney (middle) & Collectors Editions CEO Michael Young in Burbank in February 2009 (Courtesy of David Garibaldi)o galleries around the world. “David Garibaldi certainly knows a thing or two about art, and obviously so did Walt Disney, despite his modesty. But also like Walt, David makes pictures that above all have the ability to entertain.”

In a sense, Garibaldi’s work for Disney brings him full circle artistically while taking him farther away from a not-so-distant past that, as he tells young audiences when performing for them, veered into delinquency. Growing up in Vintage Park—dad owned a small popcorn company before going to work for Jelly Belly, mom still runs a hair salon in Elk Grove—he drew Disney characters and dreamed of working as an animator. But by the time he reached his teens, his creative pursuits had turned less innocent. He ran with a graffiti-scrawling crowd, defacing property across South Sacramento and falling into a pattern of slack behavior that delayed his graduation from Sheldon High School.

“I was definitely a follower at that time, going along with other people,” Garibaldi recalls. He found his own path when Shawn Sullivan, an animation instructor at the school, urged him to apply his talent to less destructive ends. “Sullivan said, ‘Look, you’re doing the graffiti thing, but I want to show you how to bring your paintings to life.’ ” From his mentor, young David learned about detail, color, shading, highlight—and the virtue of practice. Garibaldi began to devote long hours to drawing and painting, and a few years later, at age 20, he decided to give himself to his craft, poverty be damned.

“When I first started teaching myself how to paint six and a half years ago, I made a conscious decision to live my life as if there were no second chances,” he says. “My car was repossessed. I was about to get evicted from my apartment. I was malnourished.”

True to the starving artist parable, his first sale was actually a barter to keep a roof over his head. The owner-manager of his apartment complex at 26th and N streets generously offered to give him two months’ rent credit in exchange for Garibaldi painting an aquarium mural on the building’s facade. The image remains, an early public work of a local kid gone global. “It’s kind of become this landmark in midtown,” Garibaldi notes with pride.

Around the same time, he started performing live late-night painting sessions at Fox & Goose, working with an ensemble that included a drummer, bass player and DJ. When the DJ bought one of his finished pieces—for $100, which was $200 less than the asking price—Garibaldi began to consider himself a professional artist. Soon after, he discovered the work of Denny Dent, an Oakland-born speed-painter who rose to fame in the ’80s by engaging his audience while creating portraits of rock stars. Garibaldi saw his destiny come into sharp focus.

Garibaldi’s Street Mouse painting for Disney Fine Art (Courtesy of Disney Fine Art/Collectors Editions)The concept of putting brush to canvas before a live audience has been around as long as art itself. But in “Rhythm and Hue,” Garibaldi’s title for his public shows, he delivers a performance as much as he creates art, melding color and light, sight and sound. In less time than it takes most audience members to dress for his show, he completes full-blown, 6-foot-tall portraits of just about any pop icon you can name: Carlos Santana, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King Jr., Tina Turner—on and on. He paints some pieces upside-down, the image’s identity only becoming clear when he finishes and flips the portrait around with a toreador’s flourish, a moment that invariably elicits wild cheering. Between the hip-hop and rock music pulsing in the background and his Kanye-like stage presence, he says, “It’s really like going to a painting concert.”

His show obviously caught the attention of Disney, and his upcoming appearance at Stage Nine marks one of his first as a member of the company’s Fine Art program. In February, he performed at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank for an audience that included Roy E. Disney, nephew of the late Walt; Garibaldi painted a portrait of the uncle as an homage.

“David has such energy and enthusiasm, and he’s totally unique in his style,” says Troy Carlson, owner of Stage Nine, which is one of only two Disney Fine Art galleries in Northern California. Adds Aldoroty, “He has that rare combination of the creative Disney sensibility and a skill to inspire people.”

Garibaldi has raised more than $400,000 for various charities, with a goal of reaching $1 million by the time he hits 30. But there’s another reason he keeps returning to the stage even as his studio work nets five-figure sums: He wants to steer high school students and younger kids clear of the bad choices he made earlier in life. “What we’re talking about is a bunch of things that don’t cost a lot of money—some cans of paint and a canvas, things of little or no value,” Garibaldi says. “I used those things to turn my life around.”

Once, he was a kid who dreamed of working for Disney. Now, his own urban take on Mickey Mouse, titled Street Mouse, sketched and painted in West Sacramento, hangs in galleries across the globe. Maybe it’s a small world after all.