Art, Opening and In The Paint

In The Paint, an exhibition of basketball art produced by a vibrant community of artists, was supposed to open in Cambridge on Friday. Whenever it opens, it will be a good thing.
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UPDATE: The opening of In The Paint Boston has been rescheduled for Friday, April 26.

Words are obviously very important to what we do at The Classical. Without the site would just be that one scrolling American Apparel ad of Sasha Grey's butt and a few pictures of soccer players. Which, honestly, wouldn't be a bad Tumblr, but would not be what we were going for. What we were going for, back in the Kickstarter days, was something that was heavy on the best and best-reasoned possible words, but which also featured original art whenever and wherever possible. The words part we figured we could handle ourselves. The art part was somewhat more of a challenge, at least for me.

I came into this with no knowledge of the online scene in basketball-related art, let alone any sense of how vast, communal, creative and generally great it was. Over time, mostly through the Why We Watch series of essays, The Classical quite naturally if quite luckily developed relationships with a host of very talented artists who choose—for the various reasons that fans and artists choose things—to spend much of their time making art about basketball. Obviously their art has added tremendously to our site, which is very nice for us but only significant or interesting to you as far as you might care about that. More than that, getting to know and work with these artists has been encouraging and inspiring for me in another way, because it opened a window onto a scene I didn't know existed—supportive, communal, full of artists challenging themselves and helping each other and working together to make the art they want to make. This is what we wanted to do, and why we were so excited to hear that a team of regular Classical contributors—Michael McGrath and Nick Kastner of Double Scribble, Aaron Hadley Dana and J.O. Applegate and Eli Neugeboren and others—had come together for In The Paint, a gallery show that's scheduled to open on Friday, April 19 at Voltage Coffee and Art in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It's the second show for the Double Dribble collective, after a well-received exhibition in Cleveland last year. A suggested donation of $5 at Friday's event will be donated to Shooting Touch, a youth basketball training and education charity. The opening even is sold out, although the show will remain up into June.

The horrible events of the last week in Boston have, sadly, made this a difficult undertaking—as I write this, the city and many surrounding towns are essentially in lockdown as police look for the second suspect in Monday's bombing of the Boston Marathon. This afternoon, not terribly far from where In The Paint will open—either tonight or sometime soon—police are executing a manhunt; the governor has requested that citizens stay inside, doors locked. To say that it's scary is to tell you what you already know. To note that it puts the show's opening in jeopardy… well, it seems silly because of where it ranks in this week's bleak, vast hierarchy of various unfolding jeopardies.

But there's reason to hope that the show opens, sooner than later, beyond ones grounded in wanting to see the art on the walls. Here, it seems, is the antidote to the sort of involuted, fearful inwardness that terror looks to provoke—where terror aims to make us smaller and weaker and more isolated than we really are, open and creative communities like the one on display at In The Paint do the opposite. "If the MBTA starts running again we will have the opening," Ananth Pandian, a writer who's helping put the show together, wrote to me. "I think it will be a good idea for people to leave their houses and come together as a community. Community was a big part of the show." That won't change, regardless of when the show opens. Below, some of the artists involved in the show—contributors and curators both—answered a few questions about why they chose to make basketball their artistic subject of choice, and what the community on display at In The Paint means to them.

Basketball is dynamic and awesome and fun to watch, and I suppose it does offer what any great artistic subject should: color, motion, conflict, life. But so do a lot of other things. Why make art about basketball?

Nick Kastner: I think basketball is a language that a lot of people understand. Other aspects of life all have subjective meaning depending on context. Basketball is always basketball. Using it as a means for artistic expression allows you to communicate visually to a larger audience.

Berry Villegas: Basketball has always been a big part of my life—playing it, watching it, doodling it. Capturing a player in mid-flight or mid-pass or when the ball is in the air and at its peak. That's what inspired my 'Moneyball' piece reliving the moment when Larry Bird raised his hand in victory before anyone knew the final ball was going in the basket to win the three-point contest. He knew it was going in, we just didn't.

Jeffrey Dowdy: The simple answer for me is that I love basketball and I love to draw. I guess taking it a step further: No two jumpshots are alike. No two reactions to winning a game are alike. Basketball is inseparable from the strange mix of its personalities and how they play themselves out in and around the game.

Pui Yan Fong: The players do not wear helmets or shoulder pads, and you can clearly tell who is who depending on their facial features, hair, body shape, tattoos, and accessories. LeBron always wears a headband, Carmelo always wears a headband and arm sleeves, Kevin Durant is really skinny, and James Harden has his beard. Compared to hockey, football, or baseball, the players' faces are not obstructed by a helmet, visor, or hat. Without all the extra equipment, the player can be simplified, the human figure can be exaggerated, and the movement more dynamic.

For all the places that basketball lives—in gyms and on playgrounds, but also on the internet on tumblr and Twitter and various personal sites and so on -- I wouldn't necessarily have put art galleries all that high on the list. How did the idea of doing this emerge, and what were the challenges in moving this from the virtual world to this ridiculous meaty one we live in?

Nick Kastner: Double Scribble began with just Mike and me posting drawings once a day. My dream was to be able to have a bunch of people contributing to it so that there'd always be a post a day and content wouldn't get stale. I hadn't anticipated the response we ended up getting. The basketball art community online is so rich with talented artists and everyone who has submitted work has been excited about having it on the site. It's been humbling that we've been able to aggregate such a diversified amount of work from people who are so passionate about basketball. I look at DS as an online gallery of artists. When Mike pitched the idea of having a real gallery show, it made complete sense. We're taking something virtual and making it tangible.

Robb Harskamp: I can't speak to getting it in the galleries, but people crave to get away from the screen. There's the element of seeing pieces with others and also seeing details of the pieces that you just miss from the computer. To see people react is pretty great.

There seems, in a way that there isn't for baseball or football, to be something of a Basketball Art scene online—not just with sites like Double Scribble, but in terms of artists who seem to know each other and know each other's work, even if just in that internet-y, not-really-knowing-anyone way. The lineup for In The Paint reflects that: the artists are from all over the country, have pretty wildly different styles, and mostly seem to have nothing in common except for a certain thing for basketball. What is this community, in your mind, and how does it work?

Nick Kastner: After working on DS for a few months I was shocked at how active this community is. There is so much work being created and so much of it is incredible. I think it's inexplicable why this exists. After meeting some of our contributors I've realized they all have their own personal motivations. I'd say that is probably the creative side to this equation. People create for a variety of reasons and sometimes it's just because they can.

Nathan McKee: I think this community is a bunch of people that look at the game for more than what it is. I think we all look at it as an art form, not just a sport. Whether it's clothes, shoes, swagger, whatever. We all look at it as being more than a game. I think it works cause we all know that and can feed off each others work and look at specific plays in a different way.

Eli Neugeboren: I only met Mike, Nick and J.O. at the Cleveland show for the first and only time, so for me it all thanks to the power of the interwebs. Twitter conversations during games, passing sketches back and forth asking for feedback and ideas, etc. The biggest thing is just seeing what they produce, being inspired by it and pushed to make my own work better technically and more interesting conceptually. I think Patrick and I have had some major back and forth simply about the tools we use. The other really great thing about all of this is how supportive everyone is of everyone else. Not just in clicking the "like" button, but retweeting, offering feedback, even buying prints and tees and stuff. It's a movement!

To follow up on the last question, clearly In The Paint is a reflection, just by being what it is and involving the art it involves, of that community. How were the selections made in terms of what to show, and by whom? And what, besides giving a bunch of good artists an opportunity to show their work, is your hope for it? A tour? A sitcom?

Nick Kastner Submissions were open to anyone for In The Paint. We sent a direct email to all those who participated in the previous show but anyone who reached out and wanted to contribute were welcome too. Much like the site, I'll post most things and I wanted this gallery show to be a reflection of that. Double Scribble is not some exclusive club and more like an open community of artists. Of those apart of this show, I'd say half were in the Cleveland show. Mike and I have talked extensively about where we see this in the future. We definitely have a goal of hosting one of these in every NBA city. Eventually we want to make a book profiling all the work on the site and galleries. We're going to be patient and wait to see what the best opportunities are. Right now we're having fun meeting new people and getting their work out there.

Eli Neugeboren: For the full curation, I'll defer to Mike and Nick. But I can tell you that I am doing my best to secure a space in Brooklyn (Red Hook maybe) or the Lower East Side for a show to coincide with the beginning of the 2013-2014 season in November or so. NYC is a hoops-obsessed town so I think we could really make it a giant party and get the work out to this audience.

Nick Kastner: You really think Double Scribble could be a sitcom?

Paul Pierce illustration by Mike McGrath, Jr.

Larry Bird painting by Berry Villegas.

Rasheed Wallace/Dennis Rodman painting by Aaron Hadley Dana.

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