In this open field, Marinovich calls his own number … it’s the art of survival



Todd Marinovich looks at his self-portrait called “Defeat III,” and finds it interesting that many who first see it don’t recognize him as the person in the dark shadow sitting on his helmet off to the right of the canvas.

“It’s always been one of my favorites, and that’s probably the one that I’ve sold the most,” he says in his soft voice. “I’ve done six versions of it. The bright colors take on the emotions of it. I can’t do one like I do the next.

“All I was trying to do was create something that I felt like defeat. So much more is remembered and learned in a defeat. As much fun and exciting as it was to get over a victory, it didn’t affect me in the same way as a defeat.”

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As much as Marinovich experienced victory in his two years on the field at USC and three more with the Los Angeles Raiders, the defeats have been more profound.

The 42-year-old artist may want to put his football past behind him, but it’s not been so easy.

A new ESPN documentary called “The Marinovich Project,” which will debut on Saturday after the Heisman ceremony coverage, is one step toward trying to do it. (See Friday’s media column, linked here, for more information on that).

But the vibrant acrylic art that Marinovich has produced in the years following his failed NFL career and subsequent run-ins with the law over drug arrests, incarceration and rehab is far more than something to just pass the time.

“It really is therapy for me,” admitted Marinovich, married with two small children. “It allows me to be expressive and get out all those emotions and feelings that I can’t do verbally.


“I go through happy and depressed moments, and here, I can recreate every emotion that I feel as a human. Without art to express it, I’d be lost.

“It’s been fabulous for all my aftercare. I really think more art should be available to struggling addicts or alcoholics. It’s an unbelievable liberating feeling.”

The fact that Marinovich, an art major at USC before he left school for the NFL after his junior year, has been able to connect on this level with his father, Marv, who also studied art at USC, is even more amazing, considering the relationship they’ve had in the past.

Bob Abbott, a Fallbrook artist who wrote a best-selling book “Art and Reality (linked here),” has been Marinovich’s creative mentor during this stage of his life over the last three years. Marinovich lived at Abbott’s studio for two years and has contributed to a project called “Keep An Eye On Your Soul” that has been used in the women’s prison system as well as at Chapman University.


“He’s been very encouraging, because I still have doubts,” Marinovich said. “We all have that voice in our heads that tell us we suck. But it’s easier for me to deal with now.”

Abbott says Marinovich’s work is “very expressive and powerful. He’s open and experimental. I think with what he’s been through, he can really affect a positive change in a lot of people.

“He’s told me that in the times he was in jail, the only thing that saved him was the arts.”

Marinovich explains on his artwork website bio (linked here) that in drawing on his life’s experiences to create art with feel, “it’s not perfect and often times not pretty, but my goal is to evoke emotion and communicate ideas. If you as a viewer are moved by my pieces then my goal has been achieved.

“I’m an admirer of the Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Expressionist movements – I can really connect with those artists’ liberation and expressive use of color. I also create wood sculptures, drawings and sketches.”

Among his creatively interpretative portraits, the ones with sports-related themes stand out in the mix.


It’s quite easy to figure out the meaning behind “45-42,” an homage to the score from his leading USC to victory over UCLA in 1990, one of the wildest finishes in the series’ history. The Xs and Os drawn on the canvas are the play that was run, with the arms of USC receiver Johnny Morton stretching out.

While there are works entitled “Marcus, “USC,” “Trojan,” “QB,” “Victory” and “No. 1,” there are others that draw on far more analysis. Like one called “The Alchemist” that appears to be Marinovich’s outline, with a fire inside of him.

Marinovich also leaves no mixed message in his mixed-media piece of artwork entitled “The Crown.”


A self-portrait of this orange face crying amidst a wall of clipped newspaper headlines about him over the years makes Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” seem rather muted.

“It just started with finding an old trunk in the garage at my grandmother’s house,” he said. “She kept everything. But I couldn’t see myself saving all these things and making a scrapbook. So I used them in my art.”

Marinovich says he’s only been able to sell “a handful” of his paintings that he’s made available in the last year on his website, Originals and signed reproductions are available for all to order.

Or, you can just just look them online, ponder their meaning, and remember the days when Marinovich was on your TV set in a seemingly happier place.


“Some of them are harder to walk away from,” said Marinovich, speaking again about “The Crown” portrait. “That was very personal. I didn’t have to do much work to get at what I wanted. I didn’t start off trying to be cool and make an orange portrait of myself. It just happened. It looked at myself as naked. The crown, that’s a little bit of symbolism.

“A lot of people have commented on it, but no one has bought it yet. The only one who really says they’d love to have it is my brother (Mikhail, a senior linebacker at Syracuse).”

A quarterback has the creativity of an artist all the time on the football field. Now, this old quarterback can create new plays with his brushes.

“I’m just so grateful I’m able to create art,” he said. “I get to play with paint. As an athlete I got to play with a football.”

This is his new window of opportunity. Or, simply “Window,” as in the work entitled below.

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  • JD

    Genuinely nice guy who came back from the depths of drug hell. Great to see him succeeding.

  • Jeannified

    Wow…incredible artwork! Amazing, really.