Mike Tyson, Rob Gronkowski, Chevy Chase, Dennis Rodman and Rosie O’Donnell have all commissioned work from Patrick Ganino. The Madison artist creates his paintings in a 2,000-square-foot studio in Middlefield, but frequently travels for his craft. Much of his work with celebrities centers around portraits, but he also loves creating large-scale murals that depict various scenes. This summer, even with COVID-19 still a very real concern, he was in Frisco, Texas, to paint three outdoor murals, including one that will be three stories tall. In Connecticut, large-scale murals he’s done can be seen in Middletown inside Herd Restaurant and on the exteriors of Eli Cannons Tap Room and Metro Movies.
We recently spoke with Ganino to ask him about how he started, what draws him to portraits and, of course, what it was like meeting and working with Tyson.
How did you end up painting Mike Tyson?
I usually go out to L.A. every month for about eight to 10 days and I work with my clients when I’m out there. About two days before I was leaving for L.A. I got a call from Dennis Rodman, who I’ve been working with for about four years now. He was like, “Listen, I’m about to do some work with Mike Tyson up at Tyson’s ranch in El Segundo. I want to give him a gift. Can you do a portrait of Mike Tyson and his wife?” Literally, I had to do it and get it to him the next day. It’s always last minute with Rodman.
But you did it?
What are you going to do? It’s Mike Tyson. I’m definitely doing it. I love Mike Tyson. I’ve been a fan of his since I was a kid, so I bang out this portrait of him. In the meantime, I’m getting a call from one of my clients that he wants to hook me up with Chevy Chase. So now I’ve got to do this portrait of Mike Tyson and his wife, the next day I’ve got to go to Rhode Island and meet with Chevy Chase. This is prior to me getting him as a client. Now I work with Chevy and have worked with him for a while. So I get it all done. I fly out there.
What happens in California?
I meet with Dennis Rodman outside of Tyson’s ranch. We walk into Tyson’s ranch. Now, Tyson’s ranch, it almost feels like a Dave & Buster’s. You walk in this main big room and there’s all these little side offices and all of a sudden I hear from one of the side offices, “Rodman, get in here,” and it was Tyson. So we stroll into this little side office, and it’s Tyson and his wife and a couple of other guys. There’s just like a cloud of smoke. Tyson is sitting there, and he’s puffing on a joint, he’s got another one behind his ear. We unroll this mural, typically I do these murals on canvas and they get installed like wallpaper, which allows me to do murals and ship them all over the country. So we unroll it and Tyson starts going nuts. He’s like, “Oh my god, this is amazing. I got to get you on the podcast.” He’s like, “Come sit over here.” So now I’m sitting next to Tyson. The guy’s having a blast. He’s laughing his ass off. He’s like, “Listen, man, I want you to paint me with horns.” I’m like, “What?” He’s like, “I want horns coming out of my head.” I was like, “You want horns coming out of your head?” He’s like, “Yeah.”
I’m about to leave, but this is kind of a weird request, and there’s a lot of smoke in the air, so I took his wife aside and was like, “Does he really want horns on his head?” She’s like yes, and [shows me] a picture with this little coin with like a Caesar character on it with these horns coming out of his head.
Portraits are a specialty of yours. How did you get into painting them?
I was a big fan of Norman Rockwell as a kid. He would tell stories with his paintings. I love the face and I love the features that you can make with your face. Whether you’re squinting your face up, or you’re making a movement in your mouth, or even if you just look in the canvas and see the sadness behind someone’s eyes.
How did you become an artist?
[A friend] working in a nightclub [in Florida] needed a mural for reggae night. I said I can do it. So they gave me $500 to paint this mural. I was an 18-, 19-year-old kid. I think I spent like $350 on supplies and walked away with $150. But I was like, OK, I can make money doing this. So I ended up pitching another restaurant. And they wanted a mural on the side of their restaurant, so it was a pretty good-size mural for somebody who didn’t know what he was doing. I think they gave me like two grand, and I did this underwater scene. At that point I was like, I’m going to start a business. I started doing murals down in Florida, came back to Connecticut and just started hitting commercial areas, going into restaurants and just cold-pitching everyone on doing murals, and it just took off. I was booked out eight months within my first five years. When I started the business, my family, a bunch of Italians, was like what are you doing? You’re not going to make any money with this. Five, six years in I’m starting to do these big jobs, I’m making real money, I’m buying a car, I’ve got a house and a wife. And those same Italian members of my family, they come up and they’re like, “We knew you could do it.”
What advice do you have for other artists?
I wrote a book about this called The Business of Faux, and every once in a while I meet with 20-30 artists at a time and we talk about it. I find that the common factor with artists not making money is they feel that because they are an artist they are not a good business person. They feel like if they talk about their art too much they’re bragging. They feel like if they sell their art at a lower price than what they think it’s worth that they’re selling out. I think all of those are just the wrong way to think about it. Here’s the thing, if you’re not doing any work, sell your work for less. If you have a house and you put it up for 300 grand and nobody comes to look at it, and then you put it up for 250 and you get 20 showings, guess what? Your house is worth 250. The whole game is getting out in front of as many people as possible. Here’s the thing, you can get paid to dig trenches or you can get paid to do a painting, which is fun. So get out there. See people. Meet people. Talk about your work. I tell everybody I’m an artist. I don’t feel like it’s bragging, I think I do something that’s interesting and they’re not going to know I’m an artist unless I tell them. I think the creativity that goes into being an artist is the same sort of creativity that goes into becoming a business person. You’re solving problems.