Once a month, Todd treks to Fort Lauderdale's Revolution Live, the Fillmore Miami Beach, Pompano Beach's Club Cinema and other venues to live-paint rap royalty, using a color palette inspired by the beats, the vibe and the fist-pumping audience.
"I like to think I'm an artist undercover, but I'm really just a star-crazed fan like everyone else, of course," Todd, of Fort Lauderdale, says with a laugh.
This month, Todd earned a one-year artist residency at Bailey Contemporary Arts' Lyrics Lab in Pompano Beach, the every-Wednesday open mic devoted to rap, spoken-word and poetry. As aspiring artists freestyle lyrics while accompanied by a house band, Todd is nearby with his easel, vigorously swishing paint across the canvas.
On a recent night during a CD release party for Brynth "BP" Peterson, one of BaCA's regular poets, the 25-year-old FAU graduate is parked near a set of floorlights, and is scratching the outline of BP's face using a Sharpie. He says the portrait, when finished, will juxtapose BP with "Simba" from Disney's "The Lion King."
"I took a walk with BP before the show and he started freestyling, saying he was a 'symbol of Simba,' " Todd recalls, pausing from his work to combine acrylic in a mixing tray. "Portrait work is very sensitive, so I like to ask how they want to be portrayed. I’m drawn toward rappers and street poets because they’re plugged into pop culture now. I use my art to tell other people’s stories. I put myself in their shoes, but I’m really a white, middle-class dad in a mini-van listening to Juicy-J and I’m not out chilling with big-booty strippers. I don’t have to go through the trouble of getting into those weird, strange situations, but I can appreciate them by living in their fantasy world.”
Six weeks ago, Todd brought his 9-month-old son, Jaxon Finn, to a Lyrics Lab, and conversations with the emcee, Ian Caven, led to a trial session live-painting an open mic. Amy Pasquantonio, BACA's director of operations, says she "fell in love" with Todd's graffiti-style illustrations.
"He's a sweetheart," Pasquantonio says. "He brings a raw, honest energy here that gets everyone excited."
Distractions happen easily in a live setting, Todd says, and he has learned to tune out ambient noise and to pre-paint the backgrounds for his canvasses.
"The night before, I’ll just get weird with the paint," Todd says on a cigarette break during intermission, an interval he says “give the layers a chance to dry." He stomps out his Parliament Light and crouches low to the sidewalk to illustrate.
"I'll put the canvas on the floor, splatter the paint and push it around like this until I have the background I’ll use the following night," he says. "It’s random. I used to be undisciplined and not finish in time because music and friends would distract me. So I learned this peaceful recipe: I stopped inviting friends out."
His experience live-drawing in FAU classrooms gave Todd the confidence to start painting in concert settings. To gain unfettered access to paint touring hip-hop acts, he says he befriended local promoters and club owners such as Revolution Live's Jeff John. Concerts provide Todd an opportunity to "hustle" his work: he'll ask for autographs, to pose with acts for pictures and, more important, offer to sell his paintings.
In his works, he says he prefers to depict hip-hop stars in whimsical settings that match their personality. A live painting at Miami's Club Adore yielded a portrait of Abel Tesfaye, a.k.a. the Weeknd, standing amid a haze of purple-black cigarette smoke. His painting of Wiz Khalifa at Mizner Park Amphitheater depicts the rapper as an "American Gothic"-style farmer holding a pitchfork. In October, he sold his first painting to Kid Cudi at AmericanAirlines Arena. Cudi, wearing a spacesuit in the painting, is perched on the edge of a moon with a cup of coffee.
"It was a big accomplishment, a notch in my maturity belt. I've always glorified these people, but all it takes to paint your idols is to reach out and not be nervous," Todd says. "My paintings have already paid for themselves."
Galen Todd at Lyrics Lab
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays
Where: Bailey Contemporary Arts Pompano, 41 NE First St.
Contact: 954-284-0141 or BacaPompano.org