Entries Tagged as 'Boston Sports'

In the Land of Skinny Ties and Hockey Hair

When I’m drawing, I ruminate. That’s the word. I ruminate about the subject matter, usually… it’s inevitable when you spend several hours hunched over a piece of paper under the circular glare of an artist’s lamp. My mind has to go somewhere. And I’ve always felt better about a drawing when I was able to connect with it on a particular level, so this rumination is good. As if my firsthand knowledge would infuse it with more life, more magic, more… something. On the other hand, if it holds no significance for me and my mind takes me to dead ends as I work, you can bet that’s going to be a bad piece of art.

I did the Bourque and Evans pieces back-to-back a couple of months ago, just before Thanksgiving. This artistic visitation of the Reagan era was by pure happenstance. The Bourque was for my cousin Chris (he of pogo-sticking/deck-crashing fame… Baltimore still bears the psychological scars). He was in town for the holiday and had been none-too-subtle over the years about his desire for a picture of Ray. The Evans was a commissioned piece, to be given as a gift by the buyer to her cousin. So I spent a good week-and-a-half banging out these two drawings, thinking about the individual athletes as well as the time period when they flourished in this town, and of course this led to thoughts of me and who I was back then. Because it’s hard to believe that it was 20 – 25 years ago.

One reason that sports fascinate me is that they provide a natural marker to the passage of time. You could watch The Godfather on 34 separate occasions over a span of 20 years and you get sucked into the story each time because it’s the same, no matter when you watch it. Maybe you think about when you first saw it, but it’s a fleeting notion. On the other hand, you happen to flip to ESPN Classic and they’re showing Celtics-Rockets from 1986 and you think, “Holy crap, those shorts aren’t flattering! And I completely forgot that it was Jerry Sichting who took down Sampson in that game!” You can watch the Celtics or the Sox for decades, but it’s an organic and spatial thing, ever-evolving, each moment a living time capsule.

I was in high school in the ’80s. Bourque and Evans were my guys at the age when I first begin to see athletes as people, however incomplete or inaccurate that vision was (and always will be). Not just men wearing my team’s pajamas anymore, identifiable only because of the logos on their chests. Not players who came before me: swings frozen in time, photographs forever tinged with yellow, backstories needing to be told to me as if they were fables. No, these deeds unfolded before my own adolescent eyes.

And I drew those guys back then, of course. When I was in high school I just assumed I was going to make my living as an artist. I didn’t really know how or in what way, but I never addressed the thought head-on because it was the thing that I was obviously most talented in, and that was enough. Everything would work itself out. But at the same time, a nagging and probably subconscious part of me didn’t want to commit to it, either. Mostly because I didn’t want to have this one thing that I was in sole possession of given over to someone else and have them determine what I was going to do with it. A boss. A customer. Whatever. I’ve bagged groceries and cut plastic lenses for light fixtures with table saws and created computer-aided pattern templates for fat men’s clothes, all with varying degrees of success and for different rates of pay, and it never bothered me too much because those aren’t things I’d ever do on my own time. Tell me to do it and I’ll do it.

But tell me to draw something that I didn’t want to? Open myself up to criticism of an idea that wasn’t mine in the first place? This perversion of my gift? And get paid absolute peanuts for it?

Outrage!

It goes without saying that I was dimly stubborn (stubbornly dim?) about the matter. Not that I was wrong about it — I was dead-on in my assessment — but it was naive. Back then it was all about integrity and whatnot. Now? While I realize that you’ve gotta do what you can to make buck, exploit any avenue that separates you from the competition, it doesn’t change the fact that I know I’m not psychologically built for that kind of artistic employment. And that’s a shortcoming, not something to be proud of.

So I look back and sort of shake my head. I don’t know if they were wasted years, rife with opportunities not taken. I don’t think so… like I said, I’m pretty sure that was never going to be the path for me. Better that I short-circuited it myself pretty early on, rather than finding out one day when I’m 45, I guess.

But on the positive side, those years marked my first steps toward independence, that hopelessly awkward transition from boy to teenager to young man. A feeble and staggering gait towards self-sufficiency and self-determination, the dawning realization that my gift was big fat fucking zero in the Life’s Profession department, over before it ever began. And weaving its way through that, the arteries that supplied blood to the muscles and organs, the fabled Best Years of Your Life. I got my driver’s license. Had a couple of jobs, could see movies whenever I wanted to, went to some parties. Discovered beer. All the while feeling the tectonic plates of my existence grinding against each other, the continental shelf entitled Girls shifting and passing over the one called Goofing Around. Good things. Finding a purpose, even if it was to get her to say yes, or to find someone who could buy booze for you, or to do just enough to avoid failing Trigonometry.

On Friday or Saturday nights, the grocery store where I worked would close down and some co-workers and I would hang out in the parking lot afterward, throwing around a football until the manager shut off the lot’s overhead lamps, usually about an hour after we punched out.

We’d fling our aprons onto the ground, shouting and whooping as we scuffled around the asphalt in our workboots, tossing spirals as our car radios broadcast the feats of an Evans or a Bourque through rolled-down windows.

Not a Bad Town to Live In, Considering the Gig

I’ll always have Ted.

The Boston sporting universe as we know it could come to an end tomorrow and I’d still have plenty of opportunity to draw some sports-related art for people, because we have Ted. Boston athletes come and go, our love affairs with them blossoming and eventually withering (usually in an ugly or petty fashion), but The Kid occupies a zone impervious the the whims of the sports talk-show caller or message boarder. He had the presence of mind to be incredibly talented yet equally cantankerous in an era where that was less damaging to one’s public image, an indictment of both Ted and the times we live in now. And since so many of us were born after he stopped playing, he’s simply a Warhol-esque icon, shorthand for some larger statement about the game and ourselves. I can do charcoal drawings of Ted until they put me into the ground, and there will always be a taker for them. I just finished the above commissioned piece, and I’ve got another one of Willams that’s half-completed that already has a few prospective owners (I started it without a commission attached, I just liked the picture). Progress below:

But consider this. Boston also has the following athletes who occupy the next tier down from Ted, a tier that is still in rare air but slightly short of that iconic God status (which your Jordans, Alis and Ruths have attained): Larry Bird, Bobby Orr and Bill Russell, with Tom Brady waiting outside but ready to knock on that door.  And by all rights Pedro Martinez should be included amongst that group, but his period of utter dominance was Koufaxian in its brevity, and he had the nerve to leave town of his own accord, so I doubt he’ll be truly appreciated for what he was by the majority of Boston sports fans until years from now, if ever.

Then you’ve got the tier below that: Yaz, Havlicek, Bourque, John Hannah (who would be ranked higher if he played a sexier position, nobody wants drawings of offensive linemen). Ortiz and Manny occupy this level now, and Manny would be higher if he didn’t dog his way out of town, because based on skill alone he’s the second-best Sox hitter ever after Williams. Ortiz could move up with a few more good years and one more transcendent October or two.

I don’t think any other city in America can rival the depth and breadth of this pool of sports icons, and if it can, it’s because it boasts multiple teams per sports league, like New York, Chicago or LA.

I benefit from this twofold: they’ve provided a huge positive impact upon the teams I root for, and they also possess that je ne sais quoi that make people want artwork of them.

I could live in worse places, and this was even before this current and remarkable decade, in which Boston has turned into Titletown. It’s easy to forget sometimes.