OK, there a couple of significant things about this recently completed drawing:

1. It wasn’t commissioned, nor was it drawn for any express purpose other than I felt like doing a picture of Willie Mays. Prior to last night, that scenario hadn’t happened in a long time.

2. As such, it represents a subtle shift to creating the sort of art that ultimately might say something a little more than, “Hi, I’m a picture of Willie Mays.” Not much more, mind you, but it won’t be strictly representational, like the stuff I do now. Because what I’ve envisioned doing for a considerable amount of time is creating an entire collection or series of ballplayer drawings, comprised mostly of those who played in the ’50s and ’60s, and sort of trying to make a statement about who they were in the baseball pantheon and how we view them. Especially compared to stars from the ’70s and on. In fact, I’d like to do one series of guys like Mays, Aaron, Mantle, Clemente, etc. and then do another of their future peers from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, players who may stack up statistically but just don’t hold that same allure. And I imagine the two series will be starkly different on a visual basis, and to really understand the ultimate statement you’d have to see both collections one right after the other, or simultaneously. It’s important to note that I’m critical of myself for this bias towards older players and I think the tendency needs to be deconstructed, and whatever art results from this idea would examine that.

And what would I find? I don’t know, frankly, but I have some guesses. It’s the kind of thing that would be honed through the work itself. I’ve always found it interesting why I’ve romanticized ballplayers from the ’50s and ’60s (not just from a fan’s basis but from an artist’s as well). The blousy uniforms were far more interesting and the black-and-white photography captured these really great contrasts between light and shadow. On the other hand, try drawing a picture of Nolan Ryan from 1980:

Unless you’re Andy Warhol, what’s the point?

But, you know, that kind of is the point. Especially if I have these motivations that spur me to draw players from one era as opposed to the other, even though I’m a fan of all great players across all eras. There’s a reason why I’m hung up on it, and it’s something that possibly can be explored through my art. The idea that I can do this intrigues me. Barry Bonds and Frank Thomas rival Ruth and Williams in terms of sheer numbers, even when adjusted for the much livelier offense of the past 20 years. But Bonds has so much baggage and Thomas is looked at as being a beneficiary baseball’s offensive surge that it’s blasphemy to compare them to such greats. Where’s the romance in drawing Bonds and Thomas? It would end up seeming more of a political statement.

OK, but what about the players just before them? George Brett, Robin Yount, Ozzie Smith, Carlton Fisk? Great players in their own right, free of steroid allegations and juiced-ball theories, but sexy? Not really.

So yeah, there’s something there, and in drawing these players I’d otherwise feel no particular motivation to draw, I might find something out and end up saying something in the process.

There was an interesting debate yesterday on the Sons of Sam Horn website regarding emotional attachment to players that was disproportionate to their actual skill. What started the argument was one poster professing his love for Jerry Adair, and it devolved into a old vs. young/observation vs. stats shouting match, with predictable responses from both sides.

Now, Jerry Adair is no Willie Mays, obviously. But Jerry Adair isn’t even Dave Roberts, a bit player who managed to take advantage of a singular opportunity and impacted Sox history in a very profound way. But the argument isn’t even about Jerry Adair, really. It’s about old vs. new, and in that argument, old always gets the deferential respect and new always pales in comparison. And despite my not being alive during the ’50s or ’60s and never having seen Mays and Aaron play, to me they’re gods worthy of artistic paean, while Alex Rodriguez is a robotic douchebag and Ken Griffey, Jr is a broken down could-have-been (despite having more than 600 home runs and a Hall of Fame career). Categorizations that are unfair and diminish their place in baseball history, at the very least. I know this. Yet I still find myself wanting to draw a picture of Billy freaking Williams instead of Chipper Jones, who’s at least a contemporary of mine.

So we’ll see if anything comes of this. I’m probably going to give this Mays piece away (I’d like to to paint the pieces in this proposed collection, and this one’s in charcoal), so it’s not like the process is underway,  but the scope of the project is starting to come into focus. I think it could be interesting, at least for me, anyway.

Edit: Or it could be a big steaming pile of bullshit. One never knows, one never knows.

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