NC Illustrators Show Love for the Game
When you work in the commercial illustrating industry, you don’t always hit home runs. You try for consistent base hits. The point is to accumulate runs, and to keep doing it again and again.
You sketch, paint and draw to order. And if you leave the lasting imprint of genius when you’re done, it’s subtly embedded in the genre, not broadcast as a grand statement.
‘“The turnaround time is tight,’” says David Stanley, a Greensboro illustrator whose artwork is used in advertisements, caricatures and magazine illustrations. ‘“The difference between us and fine art is we have to work within so many parameters. But illustrators share that same desire to paint out of our own soul.’”
Stanley, 36, and David Gaadt, an illustrator with an additional 25 years under his belt, hang paintings for the ‘Play Ball’ exhibit at the Marshall Gallery on Wednesday. One sinks a screw into the partition board with an electric screwdriver, after which the other hangs the painting. They eye it critically to gauge its level and its space relation to the others, and adjustments are made accordingly.
‘“I saw this great illustration of Ted Williams in this magazine I picked up on the airplane last week,’” Stanley tells Gaadt. ‘“You know he was a fighter pilot. It was one of those beautiful illustrations where he’s painted with angel’s wings. I wish we could have gotten that for the show.’”
Through a plate glass window, the afternoon sunlight glints against the surface of Eugene Street, and beyond it First Horizon Park. The grassy berm rises expectantly behind left field. The floodlight towers stand ready to illuminate delightful spring evenings. The American flag flutters in the breeze.
If ever there were a moment of uncomplicated anticipation, this is it. The Grasshoppers will play their inaugural exhibition game against the major league Florida Marlins at the ballpark on Sunday. In the gallery across the street, images of Derek Jeter, Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson, along with other images full of both trenchant social commentary and the joy of the game, will hang on Saturday. The kids will get free hot dogs, peanuts and popcorn, and grown children and juveniles alike will be given ‘baseball card’ representations of the original paintings to trade.
‘Play Ball’ is the fruit of Stanley and Gaadt’s vision, and the natural marriage of two great passions: illustration art and baseball. The show is the first outing of the recently formed NC Society of Illustrators. Baseball is, well, a common cultural denominator and a rich source of artistic imagery.
The Society is more a cult of enthusiasts than a professional organization. Its members get together once a week to draw the human figure. As Gaadt points out, he and his colleagues don’t network or tip each other off to new jobs because they all do the same thing. Strictly speaking, they’re in competition with each other, but more than that they’re devotees of a shared passion.
‘“There are individuals who are afraid to share techniques, but that’s really silly because eventually everyone’s going to figure it out anyway,’” Gaadt says. He adds: ‘“Everybody’s always looking for a new, exciting style.’”
The purpose of the Society of Illustrators is to allow commercial artists to inspire each other.
‘“It’s important to stay excited and hungry as artists,’” Stanley says. ‘“Within the art world there’s always the sense in which illustration is a fashion industry because what’s fashionable is always something that’s changing.’”
One of the exemplars of the form is ‘“Climbing Mt. Maris,’” an entertaining illustration by James Bennett, an artist whose work has shown up in Rolling Stone and other major publications. The illustration shows a dogged Mark McGwire followed by a giddy Ken Griffey Jr. straining against a rope in an attempt to top the stone-chiseled visage of Roger Maris. The illustration represents a metaphor for the race between McGwire and Griffey to beat Maris’ home run record. It was drawn before Sammy Sosa started coming on strong.
‘“It’s conceptually strong,’” says an admiring Stanley. ‘“It’s got the two essential components of a good illustration: It’s a good idea and it’s well executed.’”
Much of the work in the exhibit plays off the classic form of the baseball card. Greensboro artist Ben Teeter’s ‘“Hank Aaron,’” for example, shows the legendary swatter leaning against a bat, poised and confident in the naturalistic pose of American celebrity.
Stanley’s ‘“X-Boy’” stretches the form in an ironic and fun manner. The pastel piece shows his 5-year-old son Canain mirthfully clutching a bat that seems to vibrate in the air.
‘“What kid wouldn’t want his own baseball card?’” Stanley asks.
He calls it a ‘“tribute’” to the Greensboro Grasshoppers, but it really pays homage to the experience of every overly enthusiastic child who has ever driven a ball through an inconveniently placed window during a backyard game. The piece features a pennant emblazoned with the words ‘Greensboro Glassbreakers,’ and identifies the player as ‘Canain ‘Buckaroo’ ‘X-Boy’ Stanley, 1st Basher.’ ‘Buckaroo’ is the father’s affectionate nickname and ‘X-Boy’ is the boy’s self-chosen appellation.
Gaadt has chosen to have a little fun with the exhibit too. One of his paintings depicting the stands of First Horizon Park full of patrons for a night game under an apocalyptic sky with the Wachovia and Jefferson-Pilot buildings bracketing the corners graces the Grasshoppers’ website.
When the Grasshoppers organization declined to cooperate with Gaadt for the ‘“Play Ball’” exhibit, he had his revenge. He painted in two grasshoppers that resemble some mutated alien species juiced up on steroids that hover over the field seemingly ready to pluck up the tiny players and tear them limb from limb. Another of his pieces is composed of muscular metal grasshoppers swarming over a baseball.
‘“I did a humorous knockoff of a bug,’” Gaadt says. ‘“It’ll stir some controversy I hope. It’s a tip of the hat really.’”
To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at firstname.lastname@example.org.