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Dallas artist Drigo's canvases keep getting larger.EXPAND
Dallas artist Drigo's canvases keep getting larger.
Exploredinary

Dallas Artist Drigo Made a Canvas Out of a Skatepark

They arrived after dinner, as the cruel Texas sun was going to sleep in the perfect orange twilight. They carried skateboards, a cooler packed with Modelos and paintbrushes. From 7 p.m. to around 4 a.m., the small team of four friends painted the 4DWN Skatepark a vibrant blue, yellow and red, with polka dots and a piercing eye thrown in for good measure. It’s a style that has become synonymous with artist Drigo, a painter and Dallas native who, as a lifelong skateboarder, got to take on a dream project.

“When you look at it, you know it’s him,” says Josh Romero, Drigo’s friend and collaborator. “He’s developed his own language.”

The apparel company Zumiez enlisted Drigo to paint the park for an amateur skateboarding competition in early September, and the artist seized the opportunity to pay homage to his skating fandom while painting on his biggest canvas yet. With the help of Romero and a few friends and artists, Drigo pulled five nine-hour days: painting, skating, painting and skating. And since parts of the park were still under construction, they would return some days to find the previous night’s work had been stepped on.

“So we’d start in again,” Drigo says. “Painting over their footsteps, making it just right as the sun went down.”

Drigo has a preternaturally calm way of speaking that is almost annoyingly relaxed. His style betrays his youth as a skate junkie, and his laugh, while frequent, never rises above what teachers or librarians might call an “inside voice.” Romero insists he has not always been this relaxed.

“I’ve seen him hungry, man. I’ve seen him barely making it, and he still gets in his head about things like this interview. But he keeps pushing, and that’s what makes this skatepark so special.”

Born Eric Gutíerrez Rodriguez, Drigo grew up in McKinney. He showed a disposition to doodles and drawing at an early age, but never received a formal art education.

“I think that held me back initially,” he says. “I used to always get the question, ‘Where’d you study?’ But I didn’t even have a bachelor’s, let alone an MFA. So doors were always closing.”

One of those doors belonged to Romero, who owned Atama, the now-closed collectibles shop formerly of Mockingbird Station. The shop hosted art shows, and Drigo approached Romero in 2013, asking to be a part of one. Romero said no, but not because of his lack of education.

“He had technical skill, but he still didn’t have his own voice,” Romero says. “But I told him I’d keep an eye on him, and I think him coming in and being denied set a fire.”

Drigo kept working, refining his craft, creating characters and curating the color palate for which he is now known. Work followed in the form of mural commissions and corporate partnerships, including collaborations with Converse and Essentia Water. He painted a mural at The Hill Shopping Center entitled “The Collective Energy,” a piece that, like many of his paintings, conveys a desire to get in touch with nature, to heal the earth, and have it heal us. Jencey Keeton, co-owner of art space Sweet Tooth Hotel, remembers this love of the earth surfacing while Drigo installed his piece for “1955,” a late-2018 exhibit inspired by the space age and all things astral.

“I remember him bringing in this plant during the install,” Keeton says. “He put it on top of his TV, and it sat there the whole show. He struck us as someone who was in touch with his surroundings, and in touch with nature. I think that’s part of why people respond to his work.”

Drigo's low-decibel laugh returns when he recalls the plant.

“It was a palm,” he says. “I was creating this room for the show, and everything in the Hotel was inspired by space, by dreaming about the stars. But I wanted that little slice of home there.”

Strictly speaking, Drigo does not have a home at the moment. He crashes at his former house in McKinney every couple of weeks, but he is mostly prone to couch surfing (“bouncing,” as he calls it), with his most frequent stop being the home Romero shares with his girlfriend and her 6-year-old son, Lucas. All of Drigo’s belongings, including many of his paintings, are stored in mountains of boxes in his dad’s garage, awaiting permanent residence. Drigo does not know when they — and he —  will have a new home, and he does not care.

“I’m going to try doing this nomad thing for a while,” he says. “I like the idea of not being tied to a place, and I want to explore a little bit.”

Japan is up next, and while he is there, Drigo may collaborate with an artist he knows. After that comes Hawaii, maybe New York, maybe Europe. Drigo’s only plan for the next year is that he has no plan.

“I want to get out there,” he says, the lilt of his quiet voice flourishing with a flush of excitement. “And we’ll see what happens.”

Romero is proud that the young artist he once told “No” has become a nationally recognized creator, but to him, Drigo is still Eric, the guy who loves skating, who contributes to the house when he crashes on the couch, and who is good with kids like Lucas.

“I’ve seen him develop more than just a style,” Romero says. “He’s still shy, but when he’s in his space, he’s thriving. When we were out there at the skatepark, working until 4 o'clock, there were so many times where I would look over and he would be laughing, on his skateboard, just having the time of his life with all of us.

Drigo remembers those times. As he watched the sun set on 4DWN, a smile spread across his face, and he would lift his brush to his newest canvas.

“It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had,” he says.

Portrait of an artist, Drigo, as a young skateboarderEXPAND
Portrait of an artist, Drigo, as a young skateboarder
Natalie Yablon

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