This drawing is of my niece and goddaughter Riley, my sister’s child, it was for her birthday (I had promised to do a picture of her after her christening earlier this year). Although I guess you could say it was more for my sister than my niece, but that’s OK.

I get the feeling that drawing kids’ portraits would be a lot more lucrative than sports subjects. Not everyone’s a fan of sports; hopefully every parent is a fan of their kids. And people will spend silly money when it comes to stuff like that, just because.

The problem is that I have no desire to do it. I mean, I did in this particular case, obviously, but if it were somebody else’s kid I’d have had to drink a 12-pack of Miller Lite before I even tried to start the damn thing, just to drown the self-loathing. And I have no idea why; it’s not as if athletes are a more credible genre. One could say the above piece is a “truer” work of art, in that I took the source photograph myself, as opposed to using one from the pages of a magazine or downloaded off the internet. Larry Bird is not hanging in the Guggenheim or MoMA.

I’ve given the matter some thought. Sports are a big part of my life, but I’m a serious movie buff, too, and other than a Clint Eastwood/Josey Wales drawing I’ve done, I don’t do any work featuring movie stars. I think I feel like there’s a legitimacy involved with drawing athletes because it’s the human form. I spent a good chunk of time in high school and college doing figure drawings, and what I do now is an extension of that. It’s something I can respect.

But in digging a little deeper, I had a minor epiphany: I think it’s because I’m in a state of arrested development, and drawing pictures of sports stars is a thinly-veiled cover to drawing superheroes. The first art I ever took note of was from comic books. As a child I sharpened my drawing skills via endless sketches of Superman, Spider-man and The Hulk. And while I never really got into comic books themselves (I’m not a sci-fi or fantasy geek, and too many comic book narratives skew in that direction), I’ve always held a fascination with the idea of the superhero. More from a literary side of things, how they owe a debt to Greek mythology or Beowulf or Jekyll and Hyde.

Extrapolate this interest out to observing real-life specimens in peak physical condition, performing feats of wonder while wearing boldly-colored uniforms, and the comparison seems rather apt.

My son is a huge superhero geek now, no small thanks to my influence, which is great, since I get to live vicariously and credibly through him. (“Uh, I’m buying the Iron Man DVD on the day of its release for my son.”) He also watches quite a bit of sports with me, mostly because he has an inquisitive mind and wants to know what it’s all about, although he’s a TV junkie who would watch C-SPAN if it meant keeping the set on. Sometimes when I’m trying to explain a certain sporting situation I try to couch it in terms of superheroes so he can understand it better. And then the lightbulb went off in my head.

I showed him two clips from The Natural: the clock-shattering scene at Wrigley and the final home run. The intersection of sports and myth, of man and superman. Roy Hobbs and his magical bat Wonderboy.  Arthur and Excalibur. Thor and Mjolnir. Green Lantern and his power ring.

When Hobbs sent his home run ball arching into the light stand, setting off a shower of sparks, my son leaped off the couch, jumping up and down just as if Roy was wearing a cape and saving the girl. And it was great to see him and feel that same thrill again myself, improbably so, having seen that home run dozens of times before.

I was around ten years old when I switched from drawing superheroes to drawing baseball players. I’ve never really looked back. But it’s dawned on me that on some level I’m just redirecting; in drawing these pictures, I’m just choosing a more socially acceptable alternative to sketches of grown men (or mutants) in spandex. But it’s still the same thing. They are the same stories being played out since man began to put paintings on cave walls. The weight they hold is ingrained in us, just like a dog that circles to tamp down nonexistent grass before it lies down to sleep.

And this picture…

…tells me far more about ourselves than one of a smiling baby.

3 Responses to “Archetype”

  1. Thanks! Nice post.

  2. Rip, well said.

    I meant no offense. I was merely curious about what else you may have drawn. I wasn’t trying to imply that what you do is of any less value than anything else. I feel I’ve touched a nerve. Not my intent.

    I’ve said this elsewhere, but when my grandmother died there were two pictures in her bedroom. One was a portrait of Jesus. The other was a Ted Williams poster. I honestly can not say which one she valued more. Who am I to judge either way? If that makes sense….

  3. No offense taken at all, it’s a valid question and one I’ve obviously asked myself from time to time. Just all part of the wonderful philosophical question: “What is art?”

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