Davide Piubeni, LA street artist, was born in Sarezzo, Brescia, near Milan in northern Italy, and graduated from the Accademia delle Belle Arti Brera in Milan.
He is now 52 and lives in Culver City with his wife and children.
But with the soul of a pilgrim, he took a circuitous route to get here.
After graduating from college, he found himself in a small fishing village in northern Brazil called Viseu. He stayed six months and painted a three-panel mural in a local church.
Back in Italy, he painted small niches intended to contain a painting or a religious sculpture for a time. Then the bishop of Brazil called him back to paint the church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário e São Benedito in Paraty. “It was a big job. The Fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary, 30 by 30 feet for each of the 3 ½ walls.
During this time, he met several practicing Catholic friends who asked him, “Where are you from? Where are you going?” He took the questions to heart.
He returned to Italy and began traveling around Europe, sleeping in his car. He arrived in town, set up his easel and painted landscapes for tourists: France, Switzerland, Spain.
He made a stop in Miami: “Hot in the summer, snake.”
Around 2000, he finally arrived in Los Angeles. He went to Beverly Hills and painted in the street: houses, gardens. “The lady of the house would see me, come out and say, ‘Why don’t you paint my house too?’ “He sold at least a hundred paintings this way.
He painted murals in a few local churches. Every three months, his tourist visa would expire and he would have to leave: Mexico, Canada, Italy, Brazil. He loved “precariousness”, as he calls it. Nothing is forever.
Then he got a ticket to Peru and a friend introduced him to the woman who became his wife.
They got married in 2004, in the church, in Lima. Both returned to Los Angeles and became citizens.
From then on, the sacrament of marriage had to precede the painting.
“If I got myself, I’m not going anywhere. I can’t find the meaning. I have to obey someone. And the sacrament is that point for me.
He opened a small gallery in Manhattan Beach, but when the kids started coming, the family moved to a bigger location in Culver City. They frequent St. Gerard Majella on Inglewood and Culver Boulevards. “Small parish, big priest.”
He has four children. One lived nine hours before dying. It was five years ago. His others are Giacomo, 16, Victoria, 14, and Camilla, 13.
“I don’t claim to be Van Gogh. I am a commercial artist. I am one among a thousand. I do simple landscapes to support my family. I don’t do what I want to do; I do what people who buy my paintings like me to do. If I paint the Manhattan Beach pier 10 times, I’ll sell them all. If I paint the Virgin Mary, I don’t sell it.
Working outdoors in Southern California is a joy, although there are many other places in the world that he loves too.
Before having a family, he traveled along the coast, in San Francisco, Santa Barbara, San Diego. Now he stays on local beaches, from Malibu to Pacific Palisades, San Clemente, Laguna.
In the winter, it’s more, say, in Hollywood or downtown. Pershing Square is a favorite spot.
He leaves Culver City at 6:30 a.m. He will bring an easel with small boxes of acrylic, a paintbrush and a palette knife. Or he could do watercolors on paper that day.
“I’m going to start painting. People come. Someone might ask. We might just be curious. Someone might want a commission. Every day is different. I need to be among people, not always in my studio. I know a lot of locals and I meet a lot of others from all over the world. At lunch, an apple. Water.”
He leaves in time to avoid rush hour and pick up his son from college at 3 p.m.
Where do we come from? Where are we going?
“For me, it’s the Church. I obey the Church. I found my destiny in the Church. I need to have an eternity experience now. The family, my wife, my children, myself: all this is wonderful, but it is not enough. How does Christ meet me? How is Christ manifesting in my experience right now?
He prefers to do religious painting. But no matter how great the art is and how important it is to the artist, with art alone, he says, “you can get to purgatory, but not to heaven.”
Davide didn’t want it any other way. And however commercial his work may be – the Venice boardwalk, a quiet Malibu beach, a portrait of Christ – his paintings have a liveliness, light and love that belies his modesty.
“Precariousness means accepting the experience that God offers. If you get to do what you want all the time, you never get the experience that God provides.