Daniel Mazzone creates the kind of art that artists hate, but who cares when billionaires and famous baseball players are your audience.
Daniel Mazzone is not an artist's artist. I learned this as he explained how he became one.
"I went to school for business. I got a stock broker's license," Mazzone told VICE. "I got into the banking system and started doing mortgages. But then I found myself to be really miserable. I was saying to my friend one day, 'I can't imagine the rest of my life being like this.'"
Now Mazzone makes a living hustling out massive technicolour collage pieces of beautiful sometimes-naked famous people. His best-known patrons at the moment are human bat flip meme Jose Bautista and Dragon's Den personality Michael Wekerle. The latter once dubbed Mazzone "the next Andy Warhol."
Here's where the art world anathema comes in: Mazzone found his life-altering spark of inspiration in a guy more or less known as the Rob Ford of street art. "I ended up watching a movie, Exit Through the Gift Shop, have you seen it?" he asked.
Yes, I said, I'd seen the documentary that casts Thierry Guetta, a.k.a. Mr. Brainwash, as the reason Bansky no longer encourages everyone to make art. His tendency to tack cliché slogans on poorly-executed pop art mashups was at the time held up as symptom of a hype-disease ailing the art world, or at best a knowing hoax.
After watching the Brainwash-centred film, originally billed as a doc about Banksy, Mazzone bought a canvas the next day. (That someone would admit this as their muse, let alone incorporate it into a public-facing origin story, could itself qualify as performance art.)
But who cares what art snobs think when your audience is billionaire traders and baseball players? When your primary art dealer is Instagram, you don't need to worry about the art world establishment. Bautista already owns a half dozen of Mazzone's pieces, the latest being of Michael Jordan with the text "dream big" on a basketball. Next he's commissioning a self portrait; Mazzone says he's just waiting on more family photos from his childhood. VICE reached out to Bautista's reps to ask about Mazzone's work, but did not hear back.
Besides, Mazzone isn't interested in Mr. Brainwash's work, per se—he politely declines to comment on its quality. His primary lens is ambition, and Mr. Brainwash has outlandish amounts of it. "It was the fact he wasn't an artist. He had all this creativity built up and it kind of exploded," Mazzone said. "He gave everything in his life up—he mortgaged his house, he sold his business. He really just gave everything, and that's sort of what I did."
Being the best is something Mazzone thinks a lot about, something he also shares with Mr. Brainwash. Both trade heavily in celebrity iconography, comics and Warhol references. Mazzone's pieces double as an Oprah-style vision board: if you look at them at just the right angle, you might unlock secrets of how to be beautiful and rich.
"A lot of subjects I have chosen, they didn't grow up in the easiest life. They struggled to get where they were," Mazzone told VICE. "They're all very successful people in the end, obviously. That's just something I can relate to—that hard work pays off."
When asked if his life as a mortgage broker inspires his art, Mazzone is hesitant at first, but suggests his "insane" work ethic has perhaps played a role. "There's a business to it, it really is a 14, 15-hour a day job," Mazzone said, adding he's always on his phone, occasionally flying to Miami for meetings. "I work more hours than I ever did [as a broker]."
That Mazzone includes Bay Street trader Wekerle's "next Warhol" blurb in his press material might count as further proof of that hard sales hustle background. "It's definitely an honour," he earnestly told me of the comparison. "If I could fill half of Andy Warhol's shoes then I'd feel very accomplished."
Of course, someone who makes pop art inspired portraits of celebrities is borrowing from Warhol, not making moves to some day eclipse his career. That's why Mazzone is more like the next Mr. Brainwash: there's a prank in here somewhere, I just can't figure out on who.
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