David Arrigo’s “Live Mural Experience” at Joe Louis Arena

David Arrigo has painted his fair share of NHL goalie masks, but he had never worked in Joe Louis Arena before the puck dropped. With the crowd in a frenzy, Arrigo put the finishing touches on his mural of Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard on Ram Truck night on November 12, 2011. The night of the unveiling, RamZone looked over his shoulder while he painted and asked a few questions.

RamZone: Describe what you see when you look at the mural in progress, through the eyes of the artist.

ArrigoWe projected the image on the wall with an overhead projector and first I sketched it in. I look at it as a big paint by numbers. I don’t see eyes, I see shapes and colors, and do them piece by piece. There are nine colors in the jersey, fifteen in his face. There’s actually less colors in a hockey players face because they tend to be rosier due to the cold. Bet you won’t look at colors the same, will you? I can recreate any technique with an airbrush. I can replicate surreal to all different kinds of stuff. You get as much control as you want; you just have to be patient.

RamZone: How did you get started doing airbrush painting?

ArrigoTo be honest, I failed art in grade nine. After school I worked jobs unloading trucks, but I was always playing around with paint. Then, an ex-girlfriend asked me to paint a jean jacket for her, and a beverage representative just happened to see it and asked me to do my first mural. I know it sounds cliché, but right place at the right time. Ever since, my motto has been have airbrush, will travel. I get paid to paint. How can I go wrong?

RamZone: Describe your art and some of the projects you’ve worked on in the past.

ArrigoWhat I’m doing here, it’s called the “Live Mural Experience.” I’ve done this all around the world – for NASCAR, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, and I’ve gone to do military charity work in Afghanistan. I like to be close to the fans, and bring them in so they can interact with the art. I think of myself as a blue-collar artist. I’ve gotten close with a lot of the goalies from doing their masks, and have gotten tons of positive feedback on the Pearl Jam anniversary mask and the Pat Tillman tribute helmet I did for Jason LaBarbera of the Phoenix Coyotes.

RamZone: Since you’re working live in front of fans, do you typically chat with people while you work?

ArrigoI invite interaction with the crowd, because that’s what a big part of it is, and it gets them back to see the process. So I take that into account when working on timing. Rope me in, but me on display. It’s concept art.

RamZone: These fans seem particularly struck by the unfinished, white eyes. They look kind of spooky.

ArrigoI like to save the eyes for last so the fans can see the painting come to life. Plus, all goalies are a bit possessed, so it kind of makes sense.

RamZone: What’s the most challenging about doing a mural like this?

ArrigoGetting it onto the wall. With creases in the cinder blocks, you try not to mess up a logo or a face. Creases create problems with shadows. Plus, two different kinds of light will affect the way it looks, so you have to take that into consideration. A lot of time I do pieces that were supposed to be up for two years, and they turn into a meeting point and are now up for 8 years. In this case, the paint is sealed to take a beating since it’s next to restrooms and drinking fountains. I had to pull Jimmy over to avoid doors and fountains, because the center was slightly off.

RamZone: We’re assuming you’re a huge hockey fan. How has it been working with the Red Wings and Ram Trucks?

ArrigoI become very close with my clients, my goalies. There’s a connection. I like to bring crazy fans or kids to meet the players. That’s why I like the Red Wings. The players here flat get it. They like the fans, and these guys are very approachable. All in all the Red Wings organization is a class-act, and Ram is very professional, and they know just what they want, which makes my life way easier. And, it was cool to work on the Ram goalie helmet.

RamZone: What do you paint in your free time, for you?

ArrigoWhatever the customer wants [laughs]. I’ve never painted anything for myself, I swear. But I did just moved to a place on a river north of Toronto. There’s nothing around. I want to do some scenery. But not standard, dull scenery of birds and stuff, but bold colors and action. We’ll see.

As Arrigo put the final touches on the eyes, he asked a young fan to tell him his favorite player. The boy yelled back, “Jimmy Howard!” Arrigo then peeled his 8×11 working model off the wall and handed the boy the rendering. After signing the paper the boy’s father said to Arrigo, “That will end up his bedroom wall.” To see more of David Arrigo’s artwork, visit www.davidarrigo.com. Tomorrow RamZone will post time-lapse video footage of the painting.