“For me, he’s the ultimate competitor. A true king of kings, conqueror of all.”
That’s how Cranston native Rich Pellegrino described seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady in a recent post on Instagram.
And it’s the vision he had in mind when he created a portrait of the legendary quarterback for inclusion in a mural at the new NFL Media headquarters, located at the SoFi Stadium complex in Inglewood, California.
Pellegrino, a 1998 Cranston High School West graduate who now lives in Weymouth, Massachusetts, and a works as a professor at New England College in New Hampshire, was one of a handful of artists tasked with illustrating a football legend as part of a mural at the NFL’s recently opened West Coast home.
His connection to the NFL stems from relationships he forged with members of the league’s creative team on Instagram, which is one of the platforms he uses to showcase and share his work – pieces largely focused on elements of pop culture, “everything from ‘Transformers’ to ‘G.I. Joe.’” His profile can be found @richpellegrinoart.
Those ties led to an hour-plus discussion with more than a dozen members of the NFL’s creative team, said Pellegrino, who was one of a number of artists across the globe the league interviewed during the pandemic. The discussion, he said, focused on “process, influences, our work.”
From there, Pellegrino was formally asked to participate in the mural project. As a native New Englander, assigning him Brady – who led the Patriots offense for roughly two decades before joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year – was an obvious fit.
As Pellegrino recalls it being put: “Who better than you to do it?”
Pellegrino, now 40, grew up watching Brady’s unlikely rise and unprecedented run of success in New England. An avid sports fan, he saw Brady play in person several times, including during a memorable 2014 matchup with the Baltimore Ravens in Foxboro.
In developing the concept for the mural, Pellegrino said the focus quickly homed in on the idea of Brady as a royal figure – and, simultaneously, a “gritty warrior just ready to take over on the battlefield.” That “warrior-king” concept brought figures like the Alexander the Great came to mind, he said. Brady’s Irish heritage was also incorporated.
“We had some discussions about Tom Brady and what he means to the NFL,” he said. “The way that they framed it was, he’s NFL royalty. Kind of like [Hall of Fame wide receiver] Jerry Rice. Tom Brady’s different.”
The final product includes “a lot of Easter eggs” for avid Brady fans, Pellegrino said. All seven of Brady’s Super Bowl rings are featured – with his Buccaneers ring earning a “special place” on the middle finger of the left hand, Pellegrino said with a laugh. There are references to Brady’s famous status as a late-round draft pick, and other nods to “all the chips on his shoulder.” His numerous accolades, including league and Super Bowl MVP awards, are also referenced.
Pellegrino unveiled the work on social media last week, and he said the reaction has been “overwhelmingly positive.”
“It’s been a pretty wild night,” he said a day after the post, citing the response from family, friends and others.
The contribution to the NFL mural isn’t Pellegrino’s first high-profile project. He worked with “one of my favorite filmmakers,” acclaimed director Wes Anderson, for a piece of art that was featured in 2014’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” That piece – an erotic painting based on the work of Austrian artist Egon Schiele – is smashed by actor Adrian Brody in the film.
“[Brody is] my archenemy at this point,” Pellegrino laughed.
Pellegrino has also done work for Blue Moon beer, Marvel Studios, Xbox and the hit television series “Breaking Bad.” In another sports-related commission, he created an exhibition memorializing the late NBA star Kobe Bryant for the company ProKicks. That exhibit was shown in China, although since it was unveiled as the pandemic emerged, Pellegrino was unable to travel to view it.
“I’ve been very fortunate with my career,” Pellegrino said.
Sunday’s hotly anticipated matchup between the Patriots and Buccaneers, which saw Brady return to Gillette Stadium for the first time as a member of the visiting team, is now in the books, with the Bucs having held on for a 19-17 victory. Brady has now beaten every team in the NFL.
Ahead of the contest, Pellegrino’s prediction was a bit more lopsided than the ultimate outcome. But he likely speaks for the large majority of New England sports fans in terms of how he views the quarterback he has honored through his work.
“I think we’re definitely going to get killed. And deservedly so,” he said with a laugh. “I wish [Brady] was still here.”
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