David Arrigo failed Grade 9 art. It bored him. Instead Arrigo, who’s now 40, used toothbrushes and any old paint he could find to decorate friends’ jean jackets.
Arrigo liked art enough by the end of high school to enrol in a college program for graphic design management. But he dropped out of the program and started taking odd jobs.
He was loading trucks when a former girlfriend — whom he’d long ago painted a jacket for — told the restaurant where she was working about Arrigo. They wanted a wall mural and offered him the job.
He covered the four-foot by four-foot wall with a jazz-themed scene, and the owners loved it. Soon, he was getting mural commissions all over Toronto and within a few months quit his other job.
Around this time, Arrigo picked up a mural painting book in an art supply store. “I got a quarter way through it, and then I tossed it. I can do my own thing.” He still refuses to look at art books.
In 1999, he convinced staff at Wayne Gretzky’s restaurant to let him paint a massive mural. Around the time he finished the 80-foot by 30-foot piece, Gretzky announced his retirement and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Arrigo was asked, at the last minute, to do a mural for the induction ceremony.
Arrigo proved himself by whipping off the piece in 30 hours (the paint was barely dry for the event). That soon led to a commission to do an 18-foot by seven-foot mural of the Leafs that still hangs in the Air Canada Centre today.
A huge hockey fan who began skating at age three, painting hockey greats and other sports scenes was no problem for Arrigo.
He’s now gone to two Olympics — including Vancouver, where he painted all the gold medal winners — numerous Super Bowls and NASCAR races, among other events.
Meanwhile, about three years ago, he painted his first goalie mask for Mike Smith of the Dallas Stars. The helmet covered with the Grinch (it was the holiday season and the Jim Carrey movie had just come out) worked out well. He’s now done masks for 14 NHL goalies.
Whenever he’s hired for a job, Arrigo does a rough sketch of what he plans to do. Once he’s working on the mural, canvas or mask, he photographs his work at every stage and sends them to his client.
Arrigo uses acrylic paints to minimize fumes — he’ll wear a mask when he’s in his studio. But he often paints in public at sports event so passersby can watch him wield his airbrush and turn his favourites sports ideas and icons into art.