Sports Luminaries at Home at Laguna Beach Gallery

The artist with his daughter, Breea, 6. Photo by Ted Reckas.

Willie Mays, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Bill Walton, along with golfers and even jockeys, now keep company in North Laguna, or at least their images do.

Artist Dave Hobrecht’s paintings and prints depicting sports icons in action are displayed at his Hobrecht Sports Art gallery and studio, a recent addition to north Laguna’s gallery row.

            Rendered in black, white and gray pastels, the images of sports legends mounted on smooth wooden boards are detailed enough to be mistaken for photographs.

Hobrecht works slowly and deliberately on heavy Arches paper, using brushes whose bristly heads he cuts down to nubs to achieve his signature realism. An image of Mays watching a hit’s trajectory envelops the viewer into the stadium’s roar. As Ali pummels Frazier, one can see sweat beading on the “Greatest’s” forehead.

            Hobrecht, 40, of Newport Beach, is almost completely self-taught. The only drawing class the ‘93 USC business graduate took earned an F. He learned the futility of arguing with art teachers but that with patience and perseverance he could become an artist on his own.

            Athletic since childhood, Hobrecht required both traits after being struck by a car and confined to a wheelchair. With doctors predicting he’d never walk again, he attended high school while undergoing physical therapy that eventually put him back on his feet. Today, he walks normally and still surfs. 

            “I always liked to draw and when I was unable to do sports or even walk, I did cartoons and sports related drawing,” he recalled. “My first art job was as an editorial cartoonist for Surfer magazine and, when not on deadlines, I painted.”

Even so, as an adult he went to work for his parents, who owned an auto parts company. He thought a business degree would come in useful. While at SC, he drew and painted school athletes and landed a commission for the Trojan football team. Prints were sold in the school bookstore, he said.

            Three years ago, after applying his business school skills to market research and making connections in the sports world, Hobrecht made the move to painting fulltime and recently opened a Laguna gallery. Walton, the retired NBA superstar and former sportscaster, is now a business partner, according to another partner, athlete manager Joe Moeller. Walton will appear at the gallery for the July 7 First Thursday’s Art Walk.

“People thought I was crazy,” Hobrecht said. “I have a wife, and three kids. But, I told everyone that the starving artist stereotype would never apply to me.”

            Sports painting supernova LeRoy Neiman is a business model, though not a stylistic one. Hobrecht does share with Neiman a fan base of sports memorabilia collectors.

            “Dave can see action sports as if time pauses and perceives a person’s face or expression with the kind of depth that most of us aren’t able to grasp and then translates these images with incredible, feathering line and detail,” said Hobrecht fan,  San Jose’s Mark Bussman.

A perfectionist, Hobrecht “continues to pick and add more depth until I have to threaten or beg him to finally let the thing go and ship it,” Bussman said by email.

            Perseverance continues to pay off for Hobrecht, who filled out his roster of sports images by pursuing legends such as Mays, who either refuse to license their name or license likenesses exclusively and charge fat fees. “It took countless phone calls to Willie ‘til he finally told me to do a painting of him and if he liked it, I could put it out to print,” Hobrecht said.

            Mays liked his painting, as did Walton. “It took seven months to get the licensing for Walton,” he added. Contact with Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera led to Holbrecht’s prints being sold at Yankee Stadium.

            Currently original paintings are priced at $5,000 and prints are kept small in number, between 100 and 250.  “It’s not always about painting famous guys. I pick my subjects very carefully,” said Hobrecht, who works from photographs. Licensing and copyright restrictions prohibit him from altering facial or figurative details, but he can take discreet liberties with backgrounds. When he paints from his imagination, he is careful to keep faces unarticulated.

Another lucrative sideline for Hobrect are trading cards for the Topps Company, which he draws first in black and white and then colors in by computer. “The cards are great for getting my name out there, for branding.”

            Spoken like a major league free agent.


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