Thriving artist

David Garibaldi

Photo By Larry Dalton

In the 18 months since 21-year-old David Garibaldi left his day job to become a full-time artist, he’s covered tremendous ground and a lot of canvas. When times were tough, he once traded a mural for rent—a three-story underwater scene visible at 26th and N streets in Midtown.

These days, Garibaldi paints murals on commission at businesses like Ink Eats and Drinks and entertains crowds with his performance-painting show, Rhythm & Hue, every Friday night at the Empire Club. During Rhythm & Hue, he paints a 6-foot-by-4-foot portrait of a musical artist in five minutes while dancing to a mix of that artist’s songs. “When people see it for the first time, they don’t understand what I’m going to do,” Garibaldi admitted. “They’re like, ‘What’s going on? He’s throwing paint. It looks like a blob.’ Then at the end, they get it.”

With a collection of original prints to be released at retail stores nationwide this fall, it appears Garibaldi has transformed the clichéd starving artist into a thriving one.

Were you ever a starving artist?

[When I started], I was living on my own, and I had to pay rent. Sometimes, it was like, food or art supplies? I’d take my easel, canvas and paints, and I’d go to nightclubs. At the Fox & Goose, they had a thing called Urban Jazz Sessions, and that’s where I started. I wasn’t paid to be there. I’d just set up and start painting and handing out cards.

I went there not just to promote myself, but because I love music. If I stayed at home and listened to a CD and painted, it would come out totally different. When you’re right there, with the vibration from the strings on the bass, you feel it, and it comes out in your art.

You went to Sheldon High School?

That was my real start because they had an awesome animation program. Shawn Sullivan was my teacher and mentor. I’d work on animation projects at school, sometimes until midnight. While everyone else was sleeping, I’d be sitting in front of the computer. But it paid off. I won a lot of awards, and I got to meet a lot of people.

I wish every teenager could experience that, if they feel lost and like they don’t have a place in the world. I was into graffiti. I was a bad kid; I wasn’t focused. But with Shawn and the program to help me, I was able to win awards and go places.

What made you decide to take the leap into full-time art?

I was working full time and going to nightclubs. Then I started selling paintings and getting commissions, and I thought, “Wow. If I can sell two paintings, that’s my rent.” I wouldn’t always sell two, though. But I’m so grateful to the people who have bought my work and supported me. It wasn’t an overnight success. It’s a little luck and whole lot of hard work.

What’s your typical day like?

I have my Web site,, and people contact me through that or the cards I hand out. So, I return e-mails in the morning about shows, events and commissions. Then I have the Empire gig—Rhythm & Hue—and that takes practice. It’s like learning a dance routine involving painting.

How did Rhythm & Hue come about?

My friend Kevin Costa owns two paintings by Denny Dent. Denny is the originator of the five-minute painting thing—entertaining and art. I started researching him. I told my parents, “I want to paint portraits in five minutes to music!” and they were like, “That’s nice. Are you getting up for work in the morning?”

Who was your first Rhythm & Hue artist?

Hip-hop legend Slick Rick. He was coming to Sacramento, and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to put myself out there and say, “Hey! This is what I can do!” I went to the promoter, and he seemed skeptical. I told him I didn’t want to be paid. It actually cost me—including materials and my ticket to get into the show—about $300 to go and get things started. It was an investment, but I opened up for Slick Rick, and the crowd received it with energy, and I loved it. It was an unbelievable feeling.

Who’s in your Rhythm & Hue repertoire?

So many! Beethoven, Jam Master Jay, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Steven Tyler, Lenny Kravitz. … I’m working on Prince.

How do you develop a performance?

First, I choose an artist and find the right music. I’m painting a portrait, but I want the music to paint a portrait, too. For instance, with Jimi Hendrix, “Purple Haze” is his portrait. If you hear it, you know it’s him. I don’t do any drawing until I get the music down. I sit and visualize how I want the performance to go.

Then I do really detailed pencil drawings. Then, I go in my garage and get some black paper and do it over and over again. I’ll take pictures and learn from my mistakes. I just keep doing it until I feel happy with it.

Do you sell the portraits?

Yes, people come up to me after the shows to buy them. But, besides the money, I want to give people an experience. That’s why Denny Dent is an inspiration to me. He felt his art was a byproduct of his message. His message was, “It’s not what you do; it’s the way you do it.” I could sit at home and paint portraits, but doing it in front of you and having you see what I go through, giving you the experience—that’s the way I do it.