I loathe sports art. I am not an art-loather by nature; I have a great deal of loatheable art on display in my home, and I loathe none of it – even the stuff my kids didn’t create. However, my kids know better than to create sports art.
And I ought to be clear here: I do not loathe all sports art. I do not loathe Robert Riggs’ depiction of the Max Baer-Primo Carnera fight. I'm also good with Aztec-ball-game art. All other sports art I loathe.
I say that counting at least one sports artist among my friends. Dan does fantastic sports art. If you’re looking for sports art, his is the sports art to have. I have a picture of Bob Wills he painted, and another that served as the cover for a rock-‘n’-roll book I wrote, but I have none of his sports art. Why? Because I loathe sports art.
I loathed my old boss, and naturally, he had sports art in his office. And not only did he have sports art in his office, but he had large sports art. Of golf. Done by LeRoy Neiman.
Of all the loathsome subjects painted by loathsome artists in a loathsome genre owned by a loathsome individual. It would be like Miley Cyrus covering the Plasmatics in an exclusive pressing for Alex Rodriguez.
There is nothing even remotely artistic about Neiman's quasi-impressionistic depictions of the gallery at the Masters, rendered with trowel-like delicacy in the same colors used to create fishing baits.
After my boss graced his wall with this insult to Monet, Picasso, Seurat, and God, he asked me what I thought. “I hate it,” I told him.
“But it’s LeRoy Neiman,” he replied.
“I hate LeRoy Neiman,” I answered.
He gave me the same fish-mouthed look he gave me when I told him I don’t drink coffee and don’t really play golf. And then he put me on double-secret probation for another year and a half.
The main reason I hate sports art is it lets hacks like Neiman thrive by exploiting the exploits of genuine artists – golfing artists, boxing artists, baseball artists, Olympian artists. And also Joe Namath.
At this point, I have to admit I was guilty of stretching the truth when I said the only semi-modern sports art I don’t hate is Riggs’ depiction of Baer-Carnera. I do not hate the 1953 Topps Baseball set because the artist was anonymous (at the time, anyway; the artist, Gerry Dvorak, later became famous for his work, and rightly so). It was an art set because it was more convenient, and likely cheaper, to hire an advertising artist to paint 280 portraits of baseball players than it was to take that many color pictures. It was the antithesis of art for art's sake; no shame in that.
For the same reason I might be convinced that the 1976 Topps Traded card of Tom House with the blob of cranberry mold where his hat should be is also sports art. Maybe. I don’t loathe it, but I’m guessing House disagrees.)
So you can guess my reaction when I was cleaning out a file drawer and a small yellow envelope fell out. Nope; sorry. It wasn’t that kind of small yellow envelope.
Perhaps it would help if I told you that inside the envelope was a series of 1953 Topps ripoff art cards I had never seen before.
Yep. That’s pretty much what I said. And I said it double after I noticed the web address on the back: GoodSportsArt.com.
As a disinformative URL, GoodSportsArt.com ranks only slightly behind NiceSerialKiller.com. It’s also interesting that the company behind GSA, Bill Goff Inc., felt it necessary to describe its sports art as “good” for site visitors who may not be acquainted with sports art, or who might have stumbled upon BadSportsArt.com and seen what appears to be the same thing.
Now, let me drop the snark for a minute and say that the guys who did these portraits, Bill Purdom and James Fiorentino, are 150,000 times the artist I am. In fact, Topps commissioned Purdom and Fiorentino to do these paintings as part of its proprietary ’53 ripoff set, and Topps don’t hire junk as far as sports artists are concerned.
Still, a set of cards done by semi-famous contemporary sports artists pretending to be advertising artists doing cards of modern players in an old-fashioned way simply doesn’t work. It could work in 1953 because there was HD nothing. As a baseball fan, your mental image of a ballplayer was based on grainy black-and-white newspaper photos, snowy black-and-white TV images, the occasional color spread in Sport, and baseball cards. You weren’t exposed and exposed to a player’s face until you felt you could trace every blackhead and tobacco stain.
The reference point is just too fixed for modern players. In 1953 you could look at a painted portrait of Satchel Paige and say,“Yeah; that’s him, I guess.” In this mini-set, you look at the dark, pinched face of Nomar Garciaparra and say,“Man, his ears stick out way too much, and that thing on his nose doesn’t belong, and what’s with the enormous ‘B’ on the cap? Is that like the modern-day scarlet letter?” And so forth.
The typeface is also wrong, which irks me. When we did replica trading cards at Baseball Cards magazine, we basically had a rock and stick, and we still nailed the type styles of everything from 1970 Topps Baseball to Parkhurst hockey. The type faces on these aren’t even close. That’s just plain lazy, and inexcusable.
Finally, it comes down to this: I’m not sure the world needs a set of cards based on a different set of cards based on a different set of cards that consisted not of photographs but of paintings. It’s sports art of sports art of sports art, and have I told you lately how I feel about sports art? I guess I have.
The good news is that these cards, and the contemporary ’53 Topps ripoff set that spawned them, are essentially worthless. They made no one forget, or remember, the originals.
I often acknowledge that this or that collectible is worthless. I don’t often root for something to be worthless. But in the case of sports art, I’m always willing to make an exception.