Mike Farhat is quickly becoming to professional athletes what Andy Warhol was to Campbell's Soup.
Farhat brings a fierce and vibrant panache to every piece, and sports stars are flocking to procure his services -- hoping to immortalize themselves in Plexiglas. Farhat's work has come to represent the modern athlete like Warhol's paintings embodied the cultural icons he depicted in the 60s and 70s. It's not "Pop Art," but it's "art that pops" with athletes.
We've always relied on cameras and the photographs to capture awe-inspiring sports feats, but Farhat -- "The Athlete's Artist" -- has found a way to express those emotions on a material that, to his knowledge, has never been used in this way.
"The Plexiglas almost reminds them of the backboard of the basketball hoop," Farhat says. "It was received well and then a lot of the athletes responded when I Tweeted them or Instagramed them. A lot of people think it's just a computer generated graphic but I take a lot of time in doing it by hand."
Chris Paul's charisma, Kevin Durant's passion, and Kobe's "mamba" all explode off the surface in a style Farhat calls a combination of "street" and "classy."
The young Los Angeles-based artist, whose professional brand is called Art Mobb, has already been commissioned by the likes of Paul, Durant, Blake Griffin, Matt Barnes, Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and George Karl, but he's now expanding into other arenas. Matt Kemp is set to be his first baseball piece and Jack Wilshere from Arsenal and England's national team (and cute as a button, Google him) will be Mike's first soccer portrait.
Others lined up include Michelle Wie, Mark Cuban and Dirk Nowitzki. So is Ellen DeGeneres, who would be Art Mobb's foray into mainstream celebrity culture.
Farhat says the rise has been "surreal" and he's incredibly modest, but make no mistake, the man hustled hard to reach the level he's at today. It's not like he had a ton of connections in the sports world. He used his one relationship -- a friendship with Lamar Odom's assistant -- as a launching pad for his now flourishing career.
Storyboarding and animating for The Simpsons (not the worst job in the world), Mike was searching for an artistic identity outside of Matt Groening's yellow characters when the idea struck: Paint something for Odom, knock his socks off, and maybe, just maybe, something could come of it.
Odom's assistant "flipped" when Mike presented her the portrait and that reaction gave Farhat the confidence he needed.
The Odom rendering shows the former Laker screaming in ecstasy after the Lakers' second championship and exemplifies Farhat's desire to ensnare and commemorate a special moment in the athlete's career.
"All of my paintings, really, are about capturing a moment in time where they've either broken records or from a memorable game that they played unreal in. It's like a time capsule -- everything about that piece is cohesive to that time," Farhat says.
With a screaming Lamar Odom as his catalyst, Farhat hit the pavement and started churning out pieces. As his stock piled up, athletes started taking notice on Instagram and Twitter, and soon enough, everybody wanted one.
As the popularity of Art Mobb (the gallery is located at 525 W. 7th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90014) began to grow, and pieces began to sell, Mike and his business partner Chris Hoyle made it their mission to give as much back to the community as possible.
After doing two pieces for Matt Barnes, the Clippers swingman was blown away, and a symbiotic relationship blossomed.
"I was just really impressed and really appreciated it, first and foremost, and really wanted to see if there was anything we could do together, and that's when we sat down and discussed the fact that I have a foundation," Barnes says. "They really wanted to get involved and then we took off from there."
Art Mobb's relationship with Barnes' foundation Athletes Versus Cancer created a model where Farhat and Hoyle team up with athletes to create art that not only emblazons the player, but also gives proceeds back to that star's charity.
Talking about their work with Athletes Versus Cancer, Hoyle explains, "We're basically taking the artwork, merchandising it, and giving a percentage directly to his charity and that's really our goal for each person that work with -- giving back as much as we possibly can."
Barnes says "the sky's the limit" for his AVC's partnership with Art Mobb and clearly other athlete's feel the same.
In addition to the numerous pieces Farhat is being commissioned to create, Art Mobb is in talks with Carmelo Anthony and a company called "Luggage Jacket" to create Anthony/Farhat-themed luggage covers, phone cases, tablet covers, and picture frames.
As Farhat's brand continues to grow, his marketing potential is limitless. He's single-handedly created a genre and possesses a style unparalleled by any of his contemporaries.
Warhol began his career as a commercial illustrator, Farhat a cartoonist. Andy took his 15 minutes of fame and made it last a lifetime. Mike Farhat is about to do the same.
-- Follow Tim Livingston on Twitter @timlikessports.