AN ART EXHIBIT BENEFITTING THE MLB URBAN YOUTH ACADEMY
ME AND MY BIG MOUTH
Â Â Â â€œSure, I can fill the entire front room of your gallery.â€ I said. â€œI have hundreds and hundreds of re-faced baseball cards, six full-sized sheets of uncut cards with every head re-faced, and Iâ€™ll fill the rest of the walls with big, impressionist portraits of famous baseball players done entirely with chewed bubblegum.â€Â
Like a lot of kids growing up in America in the 1970â€™s and 1980â€™s, I collected baseball cards - the cheap, pocket-sized portraits that helped put a face on the gameâ€™s seemingly endless lineup of hitters, pitchers and fielders. I had a card collection that numbered into the thousands. I have no idea whatever happened to them. They were probably thrown away- just like all of the unwanted sticks of brittle, powdery, pink bubblegum that came with every card pack.
During the spring of 1986, my first and last year of Art School in Richmond, VA, a peculiar teacher, Frank Heller, inspired me with the following words: â€œI donâ€™t care if you stick bubblegum to a car bumper.â€ I had been doing a lot of sports-themed art pieces at that time so I decided to take his absurdity to task and create a â€œpop-artâ€, pointillism portrait of my favorite baseball player, Darryl Strawberry of the New York Mets.
I chewed up and rolled thousands of little balls of colored bubblegum, and stuck the small dots onto a large sheet of white paper to resemble an impressionist painting of the Mets nine-time All-Star. It was a small, sweet success for me at the time, and later that fall, the Mets won the World Series.
Â Now, twenty-seven years later, Art School and the â€™86 World Champion Mets are but a fond, faded memory. The paper that I made the gum portrait on has yellowed and deteriorated because of my college naivete about acid-free paper, and the piece no longer smells like the Kool-Aid man in a candy store. The little balls of gum that made up the portrait, however, have barely faded at all. Here was something uniquely fascinating about how the gum had remained relatively intact over the course of almost three decades. Had I been aware of even the simplest concept of preservation, the gum portrait might have lasted...forever.
Â Â Â I live just six miles from Dodger Stadium and it is impossible to tune out baseball. Naturally, I have become a devout Dodger fan and I follow the game regularly. My renewed muse has also been influential in my art making. I have bought thousands of baseball cards â€“ some old, some new, some uncut sheets â€“ and I have re-faced them. I have pasted over the existing heads with new heads that I cut out of books, magazines and comics. I call the little collages: â€œDiscardsâ€. I will re-face as many cards as I can in my lifetime, with the hope that my small acts of defacement will add value to the cards and transform them from nostalgic, mass-produced, collectables into treasured, one-of-a-kind art pieces, able to endure the unsure, flippant facades of our throw-away culture, as well as define it.
Â Â As for â€œfilling the rest of the walls with big, impressionist portraits of famous baseball players done entirely with chewed bubblegumâ€, I can only say that I thought it was going to be easy. Acid-free paper or not, I donâ€™t really remember the college pointillism assignment being that time-consuming. Itâ€™s been twelve weeks since I began chewing for this show. My dentist and my internist have both diagnosed me with temporomandibular disorder (TMD). Ten days into the first gum portrait, I had a wisdom tooth pulled because it became abscessed.Â
Â Â But, I was obsessed. The show must go on. So, I began to masticate. And masticate. I was masticating at home and at my studio day and night so that I would have enough pieces for the show. The inside of my mouth feels like a family of little, sugar birds has built a nest made of plastic grass and gummy-worm skin. My jaw-bone sounds like fresh rubber snapping when I chew solid foods, and the joints on my thumb and index finger of my right hand have been ground-down like old brake pads by the incessant pinching and rolling of ten thousand little gum balls.Â
Â Â Â I was ruminating on â€œThe second-coming of Darryl Strawberryâ€ ( 2013, bubblegum on aluminum panel, 48â€ x 48â€ ) when it occurred to me that the players who I had chosen to make portraits of for the show were all favorites from my youth. And they are all African American. I began to ruminate about the timing of the Jackie Robinson movie, â€œ42â€, and the opening of my baseball card and gum show. I ruminated some more about a Los Angeles Times article that I had read a couple of years ago about a program in Compton, CA that was striving to address some of the issues concerning the preservation of African American youth participation in baseball. I ruminated about the factors that took precedence in my own life and work as my interest in baseball dimmed; I basically tuned out the game for twenty years. Simultaneously, the men who were champions of the sport, the men who wore the faces of my heroes during my youth, had also tuned out from the game. The result is â€œOut of Left Fieldâ€.Â
If I had to sum everything up about this in one brief artist statement, it would read:Â
â€œGum is fun, but not on a cat.â€
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