Marshawn Lynch Discovers Fine Art at His Beast Mode Store in Oakland

The famously unstoppable NFL running back appreciates “self-awareness, understanding, empowerment.”


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The Beast Mode gallery is showing the work of artist Bobby Arte whose oil paintings have proven popular with collectors.

Photo by Pat Mazzera

Beast Mode means many things. It means pounding on cornerbacks while zigzagging to the end zone. It means Skittles by the truckload. It means an obstinate, slightly hostile, anti-authority swagger. And it means an unabashed love of all things Oakland. 

And now it means something new: delicate brush strokes and subtle lighting. Marshawn Lynch, the terror of NFL defenses, has discovered fine art.

“ ‘Beast Mode’ is not just about football,” said Brije Gammage, manager at Lynch’s Beast Mode store at 811 Broadway and a close associate of Lynch’s. “It’s about confidence, courage, being unstoppable. For Marshawn, it means bringing it back home, to where he grew up, and giving back. Art is just a new path for him.”

Lynch, the Oakland-bred running back who retired in February after a stellar career in the NFL, has broadened his Beast Mode umbrella to include Oakland arts. He hosted his first art show—billed as a “hip-hop celebration” with poetry, singers, and local artists—in May, and plans to sponsor regular art exhibits at his Beast Mode store. He’s also purchased several significant pieces from local artists, and is promoting art education for Oakland youth alongside his youth football camps.

The first artist to earn Lynch’s blessing is Bobby Arte, 32, an Oakland native who began scribbling as a preschooler and now shows his work at galleries around the East Bay and teaches art to Oakland youth. He has sold dozens of works, including pieces to the president of Sony television, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Pat Monahan of Train, among others. Lynch has purchased several of Arte’s oil paintings, including a striking, 8-foot canvas depicting Mount Rushmore with mug shots of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and Harriet Tubman.

Another work by Arte, a 40-inch-by-40-inch oil titled The Beast Within, has found a permanent home at the Beast Mode store. It features the fierce, green-eyed face of a lion overlaid with the “BM” logo. For Arte, the painting is a melding of the Beast Mode ethic (or “ecosystem,” as Lynch’s friends describe it) and the artistic process.

“The lion is the king of the jungle, and the king of the jungle takes no crap,” Arte said recently on a sunny morning at the Beast Mode store. “For me, that means finding that creative zone. I can be in the studio for six or seven hours and not even realize it. It’s about that intensity.”

Arte learned to draw from an uncle, Henry Martin, who was a cartoonist. Arte would visit Martin’s house at Market and 45th streets and watch him work, mesmerized by Martin’s magical ability to effortlessly render two-dimensional likenesses.

“I was in awe. I was in his back pocket,” Arte recalled. “I started doodling little cartoons, too. … As a kid, I was never great with numbers, but when I picked up a paintbrush, everything suddenly made sense.”

Arte went to University of Hawaii on a football scholarship and received a bachelor’s degree in fine art, with a focus on oil painting. Returning to Oakland, he worked briefly as a graphic designer before becoming a full-time artist. He also teaches art at the East Oakland Youth Development Center and Youth Radio, where he hopes that art skills can help young people express themselves and open up career possibilities.

Arte’s style—realistic, straightforward, and infused with musical and historical nuances—dovetails Lynch’s perfectly, Gammage said.

“What Marshawn likes in art is self-awareness, understanding, empowerment,” she said. “He likes cityscapes and realistic portraits. It can be intimidating for some people to go to an art show, so he wants to make it more accessible. That’s what this is all about.”

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