Painting the Fourth

Palisadian Artist David Russo Talks Tradition of July 4 Charity Mural

There are plenty of sights to see in Pacific Palisades on the Fourth of July: crackling fireworks, fluttering flags, beaming smiles, gleaming cars—but among the most spectacular is the annual July 4th mural created by local artist, children’s book author, television producer and jiu-jitsu black belt David Anson Russo.

“I love the Fourth of July in Pacific Palisades,” Russo told the Palisadian-Post. “I’ve attended every single year for over two decades. It’s my favorite Pali event.”

Each year, Russo cordons off the 50-yard line on the Palisades Charter High School football field to create a pen-and-ink mural image of the fireworks display that he later paints—a tradition he has carried on for 19 years. This year’s mural has been completed and will be shared for public viewing after painting is finished.

“I’ve been in the Palisades a long time and I just appreciate it—the quaintness, the small-town feel. It’s a big family environment; they’re running to sports programs for kids and Fancy Feet and all that stuff … it’s such an active community and the Fourth of July really shows that.”

Russo began his formal artistic training at the School of Visual Arts and Parsons School of Design in New York City and is beloved the world over for his illustrative contributions to 11 books published under Simon & Schuster publishing in the 1990s.

David Goldman Agency licensed the art from these books to make over 70 product designs featuring Russo’s art, including puzzles, posters, toys, games and clothing, propelling him into radio and television appearances, including a spot on one of Dick Clark’s game shows in which Russo drew a maze live on TV.

Russo also created highly successful advertisements for Absolut Vodka, UNICEF, HBO, Jose Cuervo, 7/11 and more before a mentorship with Barbra Streisand’s manager Martin Erlichman would help him establish a career in entertainment through a non-exclusive partnership, Erlichman Russo Productions.

“My career as a producer really was the result of my career as an artist,” Russo said. “I’ve always been an artist—ever since I was a kid. Art and entertainment are really moving together now as industries. Everything we see, whether it’s a television show or a product, it begins with design.”

Charity work is another pillar of Russo’s career. One of the world’s preeminent interactive artists, he is known for live painting at charity auctions, completing an entire painting in four to five hours with proceeds donated to causes from foster care to music education.

Some of his most popular charity pieces included a painting that was installed in the windows at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills and a mural that sold at the Academy Awards dinner in 2009.

A prolific interactive artist, Russo is never without pen in hand and can usually be found doodling at his regular Beech Street Café table, sometimes for hours.

His style, part Dr. Seuss, part Shel Silverstein, part Maxfield Parrish and part Tim Burton, is one of bold, labyrinthine lines, meticulous detail, festive color and hydrous, psychedelic scenes of Victorian steampunk splendor.

His “What A Great Life” brand is an evolving oeuvre of whimsical characters, Rube Goldberg-like inventions and cities, and patterns that translate as easily from yoga pants and bedding as they do onto canvas.

“‘What A Great Life’ is about days like the Fourth,” Russo said. “It’s about all the good and the positive things in life, and feeling gratitude even in a topsy-turvy world. It’s about creating an oasis of goodness, remembering to include everyone and enjoy the freedom and the liberty we have.”

“When I come down to the field, I try to capture that. It’s a day where everyone puts aside their differences and comes together not just to enjoy what we have but to reflect on how we can better our country and live up to the values of its founding.”

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