Leap of faith

Born in LA, Paul Daniels grew up idolizing teams like the Dodgers and Lakers. He has gone on to paint a mural of Kobe Bryant in DTLA and a tribute to Vin Scully at Dodger Stadium. (Submitted)

After the Great Recession hit the global economy in 2007, Paul Daniels left his job in the real estate industry, where he had been working for over five years after graduating from Cal State Fullerton. After taking a leap of faith and pursuing a childhood passion for the arts, he would go on to become a professional portrait artist working with some of the biggest names in sports, music and pop culture.

“Once my parents saw what I was doing, they were astounded, but not shocked,” Daniels recounted. “My mom busted out this piece of paper from an assignment I did as a kid … in second grade. The assignment was to predict where you would be in like 20 years or 25 years, as an adult. … I drew myself with these thought bubbles over my head, and it said, ‘Artist.’

“This is what I was supposed to do. And I just kind of ignored that for all this time. You know, societal pressures, peer pressure, all that stuff influences you through life to sway back and forth on this path. But that really solidified it for me once I saw that. And that’s how the spark ignited.”

Daniels’ journey as a painter began 10 years ago, with no formal training. He drew inspiration from his childhood drawings of baseball cards and comics, and began envisioning his depictions of athletes as fine art.

“A lot of us can still relate to the nostalgia of baseball cards,” he explained. “As an adult collector, this is something I would want to see as fine art on my wall. … They started selling right away.”

Within months, Daniels caught the radar of the Sports Museum of Los Angeles, who began commissioning him to paint for organizations like the Dodgers and Rams, before painting for icons like Mike Tyson and Muhammed Ali. Dodgers Stadium, Crypto.com Arena and the Reagan Library have all since exhibited his artwork, and his client list includes Sylvester Stallone, Swizz Beatz, Berry Gordy and other stars.

“The way I was linked up with (Ali) was totally surreal,” Daniels described. “I was expecting to just gift him the paintings because I was so in awe of the presence of a person like that. It’s just overwhelming. I met his whole family, and they’re the greatest. And they loved the paintings, so they acquired them from me for his museum in Louisville. … And then his wife, posthumously, she acquired another painting of him that I did for her home to remember him by, so it’s in her house.”

As a lifelong Angeleno, the sports history and culture of LA is ingrained in Daniels’ psyche and work. His first baseball painting depicted Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run against the Oakland Athletics in the 1988 World Series, a historic moment for both the Dodgers and the city of LA. Daniels also has a painting in memory of sportscasting legend Vin Scully permanently installed at Dodger Stadium, who he described as someone who “practically everyone grew up with in LA, everyone knows that guy’s voice. … It was a huge honor.”

In 2020, Daniels made his first mural in DTLA, a tribute to Kobe Bryant along a 35-foot wall at Hotel Figueroa across from the Crypto.com Arena. Daniels fondly recalled the Lakers championship parades of the early 2000s, and the impact that team had on him. With his mural, he wanted to portray Bryant in the way he best remembered him: “the kid, number eight.”

“It was more of a classic portrait that was in my wheelhouse, so mainly his head, little bit of the shoulders,” Daniels said. “The inspiration for it … it’s usually to bring out someone’s essence in the artwork and then infuse my style into it, which a lot of that has its makings in the LA culture … graffiti, tagging, obviously the music and sports is a huge part of the culture, hip-hop, that whole kind of LA street culture.”

While Daniels’ expressionistic style evokes the visual blend of color and grit found in much of the city’s graffiti, he also works with a personal focus on the detailed delicacy of each stroke of the brush.

“People don’t really think of the movement that goes through your body, from your mind and your heart through your arms and your hands,” Daniels said. “It’s almost like a ballet of waving your arms around and really controlling your hand … to create these strokes that have an energy in them, this energy that is reminiscent of the strokes you would see in graffiti. … But beautifully intricate is the way I’d like to apply the technique so that it isn’t as rough around the edges as your typical street art”

Daniels explained that his artistic process involves combining two parts of himself: his physical body, which applies the paint to the canvas, and his spirit, which inspires him to create. He also draws inspiration from other artists, such as Pablo Picasso.

“Picasso started painting really advanced from a very early age, not only because of his inherited talent … he was classically trained from a young age and could do everything by the time he was already a teenager, if not sooner,” Daniels recalled. “He said something about that it’s taken his entire life to learn how to paint as a child. It makes sense because you become tainted, or your perception of art becomes tainted, as you go along. And at some point, it can become rather constricting.

“I would like to break out of that too …because when you’re seeing with the eyes of a child, your imagination is limitless. The possibilities are limitless too. And I think that makes for some really special art. … When you can look at it with fresh eyes, I think that makes all the difference.”

From leaving a career in real estate and marketing to celebrating 10 years in multi-disciplinary portraiture, Daniels’ story is one that he hopes can inspire others to see that they can still accomplish their dreams, no matter their age or how big the task. Looking to the future, he said he wants to further diversify his skillset by experimenting in the worlds of music and digital art.

“What it’s all about for me as an artist, which I think a lot of artists can relate to, is just looking within and going with what inspires you, then expressing that however it comes out,” Daniels said. “It’s a very mystical experience, becoming an artist. In reality, it was rediscovering who I really am at my core. And I think that’s what a lot of people are searching for too.”