The JumboTron. Iconic in sports, it's got a special place in baseball, with its size and visibility and ability to convey so much information to fans and players and managers.
Peter Chen noticed. Long ago, he noticed. And it always stuck with him, until the Los Angeles-based Chen recently decided to use baseball scoreboards as a way to portray his favorite players from the 1970s and 1980s -- his childhood.
So Chen created "Jumbotron Art," a key feature on his website, IconicBallplayers.com (which also displays a few more traditional -- although not too traditional -- paintings of baseball players). Recently, we caught up via email with Chen to see what inspired this special project.
What inspired you to start taking on baseball art projects?
Like so many kids, I got hooked on baseball at a young age. I remember drawing a lot of baseball stars from the 70s and 80s as a child. Growing up as a 10-year-old in that era, baseball players were real-life superheroes to me. They had awesome-looking, colorful and tight uniforms just like Marvel superheroes. That really stuck with me. So over the years I continued experimenting with different styles of art and applied it to my favorite hobby, baseball. I've always looked at baseball through an artistic lens. It's one thing to read about baseball, but another thing to look at baseball.
So did you have a home team/favorite team growing up? Favorite players?
Growing up in the Los Angeles area, I naturally became a Dodger fan and was a huge Steve Garvey fan. I remember working out my forearms so I could try to be like him. 1981 and 1984 was a stamp on my young baseball experience. But there were also other guys like [George] Brett, [Jim] Rice, [Dale] Murphy, [Carlton] Fisk, [George] Foster, [Nolan] Ryan, [Fred] Lynn and Rickey Henderson who had that cool factor going on.
When did the Jumbotron Art project come to mind?
I started thinking about it sometime last year and the vintage appeal of those simple incandescent yellow dot/bulbs against black. Then one night earlier this year I created the Ron Cey portrait and sent it to my buddy Shin Furukawa. I asked him try to guess who it was. Well, it was obvious to him, so I just thought I'd go ahead and create the rest of that Dodger infield as well as several others. It quickly became a passion, and I found myself coming back to it every night. It became a way for me to celebrate the greatness of that particular era, not just the Hall of Famers, but other greats like Luis Tiant, Kent Tekulve and Bobby Grich to name a few. I think I've done about 70 of them to date, but I probably have hundreds more I'd like to do.
Is any one your particular favorite? Cey? Someone else?
Some of my favorites are Don Mattingly, Greg Luzinski, Gorman Thomas, Willie Stargell, Rollie Fingers and of course Garvey. If I had to pick one, it might be the Mattingly. I mean, on a very basic level, it's just a series of dots, but for some reason, the Mattingly registers with the eyes like a stamp. Maybe it's his mustache or his reputation. I don't know. All I know is that Donnie Baseball was one of the coolest ballplayers to ever play the game.
Who are the next ones you have planned?
Wow, where to start. Kirby Puckett, Ted Simmons, Al Oliver, Joe Rudi, J.R. Richards and Cecil Cooper (update: since the interview, he's completed this one) to name some. One of the ideas I've been dabbling with is players outside of this particular era just to see how they might have looked. Guys like [Lou] Gehrig, [Sandy] Koufax, [Yogi] Berra, as well as current players like Matt Kemp, Josh Hamilton and Bryce Harper (update: he also started his "Newcomers" series with Hamilton, Harper and Derek Jeter).
Any thought of going into any other sports?
Yes, I have. I've experimented a little bit with other sports, but one of the unique things about the baseball portraits is that a face is often instantly recognizable due to the cap logo. It's more of a challenge in other sports where the team logo is not present and/or the helmet is hiding too much of the player's face. That said, I'm always up for a good challenge.
One final question: Do you have any other projects in mind, beyond the Jumbotron Art?
Other than my other series of baseball paintings, no. I'm curious as to where the Jumbotron Art project is headed as it continues to take on a life of its own.
Select Jumbotron Art images are available to purchase at Etsy.com. Chen also is accepting a limited number of commissioned requests at a time.