“The Art of Competition” on view at the Palm Court Arts Complex is an arena exhibiting athletes and illustrators at the top of their game. Vibrant colors create rhythmic melodies inside the rigid boundaries of white frames. Digital manipulation, graphic design and hand-painted illustration is highlighted in this show. The results are nuanced compositions that thrust into the complexities of championship, identity and spectacle.
The show opens with Noah MacMillan’s digitally altered paper cut-outs. MacMillan layers the colors of a country’s flag with a sports person’s jersey number and splices of recognizable geography and landmarks specific to that country. He presents the pride of a country in geometric shapes coupled with dynamic athleticism. In the main gallery, 24 more of MacMillan’s graphic line the wall. Taking cues from famous color artist Henri Matisse, MacMillan begins his process with paper cutouts. He then imports these pieces into the computer where he digitally manipulates them into energetic compositions steeped in international pride.
Hung on a lemon yellow wall are Jeff McMillan’s NBA portraits. These are drawn as caricatures with enlarged bobble-heads on top of smaller bodies frozen in the motions of playing basketball. The court and the crowd is erased as the players float in white space resulting in enchanting freeze-frames. McMillan keeps every detail intact, from the player’s jersey, socks, shoes and even knee braces. He does what every die-hard fan does to a sports idol: He isolates the player and transforms him into a weightless god on the court.
Tatsuro Kiuchi is the only artist in the group who pays special attention to the spectators. Kiuchi is preoccupied with the scene and the roar and participation of hundreds of individuals represented by tiny pixels. His work is charged with a visual noise of individual fans and implied cheers and jeers of the crowd. By including details that highlight the spectacle nature of sport, he points to sports history from the first wrestlers, gladiators, Olympic athletes and now contemporary games. Although for many of these competitions the rules have changed, crowds have always craved physical drama enacted in an arena.
S. Preston’s illustrations are a 30-part series of all Major League Baseball stadiums as well as several heritage ballparks. These are incredibly minimal. Striped of all excessive information and left only with key headstones of legendary baseball enclaves, fans can spot endearing markers of Chicago’s Wrigley Field, Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Preston’s illustrations carve out the unique relationship between architecture and meaning. He asserts a city’s devotion from the fans to the stadiums that is the magic force that props up a team.
Mark Smith has two illustrations in the exhibit which mark the legacy of basketball legend Michael Jordan. In one, Jordan sits astride a horse wearing his famous red and black jersey. Tumbleweeds and cacti line the path as Jordan and his horse cantor slowly toward a sinking sun. Like a cowboy leaving town, Jordan makes an iconic exit into the sunset. In the other “Tribute of Michael Jordan,” a pair of Nike shoes hang from an overhead power line. Like a gesture of hanging one’s hat to settle home, it marks the end of an era of Jordan on the court and as the hottest Nike commodity.
Tommii Lim is a Los Angeles muralist who manipulates black and white geometric shapes to craft arresting images of sports players. Up close, the soccer player’s jersey dissipates into a black space punctuated with strong white lines. These lines are painstakingly calculated so that they cleverly reveal and conceal enough information to interpret the image. He mildly gestures at a court and field with contiguous horizon lines squishing closer together as they recede into the background. A solid white circle is the ball in the soccer painting and a floating orb in the basketball piece. Perhaps it is the moon in both, minimized and transforming into an active object among players whose talent expand into the stratosphere.
Brazilian artist Marina Esmeraldo strays farthest from narrative illustration and presents the most conceptual work out of the group. The shapes on her canvas posses a self-confidence in the integrity of her lines. Overlays of shoes and legs colored with fuchsia, sky blue and an assembly of luminous colors demonstrate her mastery of color theory. In another piece, a jumble of organic shapes and lines assemble to compose a football pile-up. A heap of players lie on top of a man protectively clutching the ball under his chest. Despite the grunt and weight of the moment, her playful colors elevate this piece into an abstract synthesis of shapes.
It is no surprise that Mark Smith has a history of being an illustrator for the New Yorker. Like illustrations in the famed magazine, his work has two levels of narrative depth. In “Multi-tasking Student Athletes,” a male sprinter charges across the paper. His shadow, however, is the same runner yet toting a briefcase and while penciling an “x” onto the scantron background. The background at once serves as an orange hued running track and test answer paper. In “Tribute to Mohammed Ali,” a monarch butterfly flutters near the corner of a boxing rink. However, the butterfly’s shadow is a bee, which harkens back to Ali’s famous quote, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
Although this is an overview of professional sports, venues and players, it should be noted that the players here are exclusively men and a broader range of professional sport goes unmarked. This show only highlights soccer, football, basketball, baseball, as well as golf and ice hockey. “The Art of Competition”is most concerned with representing competitive sports that rank highest in American viewership.
This show is a bold pageantry of national pride. Sport has always been interwoven with geographic origin. An athlete gains recognition by their talents which are capitalized by belonging to a specific region. The works in this exhibit revel in this pluralist makeup of competition. While celebrating some of the heroes of modern sports, these artists capture national pride in a burst of fearless color.