Blue Jays Bautista, Stroman snap up Toronto artist’s sports collages

Toronto artist Daniel Mazzone (photo: David Zelikovitz).

Daniel Mazzone is a rarity. He has gone from being homeless to hanging out with baseball stars such as Jose Bautista and Marcus Stroman.

Mazzone, a Canadian collage artist, spent a chunk of his adolescent years on the streets of Toronto after leaving a troubled home with family issues when he was 15-years old. It was a rough chapter in his life. He had no job, no home and no way to create art.

As a child, he adored helping his mother paint ceramics and cut pieces of stained glass. But when he ended up on the streets, that all became nothing more than a fleeting memory. Instead of imaging art projects, he was focused on finding a warm place to sleep.

At 20, he got his life together and got off the streets. He completed high school, then university at Ryerson, graduating with a business degree. After that, a stock broker’s license followed. Finance seemed like a suitable career path, but it wasn’t an enjoyable one.

“I wasn’t happy. I had a great job and did well in my job, but I’d be doodling art while at work,” Mazzone says. “Lots of people have great jobs but lots of people aren’t happy.”

Watch: Donnovan Bennett’s full video with Daniel Mazzone, featuring Jose Bautista and Marcus Stroman.

He decided to channel his frustration into a new hobby – collage art, using newspapers. The decision to use papers was based primarily on convenience – they were easy to find. After a long day’s work, convenience trumped almost everything else.

“I learned stained glass as a kid helping my mom do it. I started doing collage art just as a way to get started using the principles I learned from stained glass. That’s how I developed my style, as a homage to my mum,” he says.

His art proved to be his outlet.

“I don’t watch much TV, so It became a way to decompress away from the stress of my job which left me unfulfilled.”

What happened next was unimaginable.

“My friend owned a restaurant and said, ‘Hey, can I display your art?’ I said, ‘Sure, but it’s not for sale.’”

Four days later he got a call that changed his life.

“He told me he sold my painting for more money than I ever could or would imagine someone would pay for something.”

The price was $14,000. Mazzone tested the market with three other pieces, and when they sold quickly, he quit his job.

Days after the bat flip – that bat flip – Jays superstar Jose Bautista was scrolling through Instagram. He noticed Mazzone’s work on a mutual friend’s feed and decided he needed a particular piece of Mazzone’s featuring Babe Ruth. He hadn’t seen the actual painting – just an Instagram photo – but he wanted it nonetheless.

The only problem? Mazzone was due to display that piece at Art Basel in Miami. A gentleman’s agreement was struck. Mazzone could show the piece at his show but it belonged to Bautista. And when Bautista swung by Art Basel to see his newest purchase in the flesh, he was so impressed with Mazzone’s work that he bought a few more.

Now he owns 10 of them.

Bautista’s favourite piece he commisoned Mazzone to produce features Michael Jordan with the text “dream big” scrawled on a basketball.

After seeing Mazzone’s work at Bautista’s house, Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman bought a piece featuring Jackie Robinson. It was the 26-year old’s first foray into purchasing art.

“The amount of detail he puts into it is crazy- it’s so intricate. I respect how meticulous it is,” he says. “I get lost looking at different sections and the way he melds art and history.”

The Jackie Robinson piece and the Jordan piece each took 200 hours to make. He sold them for US$18,000 each.

It’s not just athletes who purchase Mazzone’s art. Dragon’s Den judge Michael Wekerle was an early supporter and called Daniel “the next Andy Warhol.” Luxury watch maker François-Henry Bennahmias and Tampa Bay Rays owner Randy Frankel are clients.

Mazzone’s working so consistently now that he can turn down requests he’s not passionate about.

“I’m not going to do a portrait of your grandmother – respectfully. The amount of time I put into it, I have to have some connection to the piece. It has to inspire me,” he says.

The subjects he portrays have all had big dreams and struggles that risked smothering them.

His non-sports portraits include the lies of John Kennedy, John Lennon, Karl Lagerfeld, Marilyn Monroe and Ray Charles. He recently collected materials for a future Mickey Mantle piece.

“People see [my subjects] as celebrities or athletes. I choose them because they have a story where they’ve gone through something to be where they are. They’ve struggled but had a dream and believed in it until it came true. That’s inspiring to me. That resonates with me because that’s my story,” he says.

What’s next for Mazzone? He wants to create artwork reflecting sports heroes that have played on Canadian teams. If his pieces can be hung in stadiums, even better. He’s also interested in doing something on Lou Gehrig to help raise awareness about ALS. He’s also in talks to create pieces using recycled plastic recovered from the ocean to raise awareness about pollution.

“I work more now than I ever worked before,” he says, but adds, “I retired the day I decided to do something I love for a living.”

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