Thursday, April 4, 2013

DICK PEREZ: Brilliant Baseball Art at Agora Gallery

DICK PEREZ is regarded as one of the finest baseball artists in America, if not the world! He is perhaps best known for his work with the Perez Steele Galleries with his brilliant paintings of Baseball Hall of Famers. Perez has also been the official artist for the Philadelphia Phillies since 1982 and was the official artist for the Major League Hall of Fame for twenty-five years. Starting on March 26, 2013, Perez will be having a solo exhibition at the Agora Art Gallery in NYC called "Dick Perez: a solo exhibition of baseball's finest". The show will run until April 16, 2013. I recently had the great pleasure to speak with Perez prior to his new exhibition...

MICK: Please tell me about your new solo exhibition that opened at Agora Gallery on April 26!
DICK: The exhibition is a solo exhibit of 55 of my paintings that I've done for a book I published not long ago and additional work that I prepared this past year. What I tried to do with this is form a visual timeline of the game of baseball. I begin with a couple of nineteenth century Hall of Famers and proceed to the dead ball era to the golden age which the time of Babe Ruth and the depression. It goes on to today with the last painting being that of Derek Jeter. This way it shows the viewing public the evolution of the game in terms of uniforms, equipment, stadiums and things like that.
MICK: Is this your first time at the Agora Gallery?
DICK: Yes it is! I've had one other exhibit in NY some years ago and some other solo exhibitions but I could this one an important one because it is in New York. For me, New York is the Mecca of baseball. I was raise partially in New York and I was a Yankee fan. I came to this country from Puerto Rico when I was six years old during the heyday of baseball when there were three teams in New York. I just think there are more baseball fans in New York than anywhere else in the country so it's important in that respect. It's also, I think, the art center of the world especially where Agora is located which is Chelsea. There are over 500 galleries there!
MICK: The postcard for your show is a beautiful painting of Mickey Mantle. I've read that he was your favorite ballplayer. Is he still?
DICK: Yes! You just don't forget that although subsequent to that I also loved Roberto Clemente, Jackie Robinson, Hank Greenberg...people who were associated with breaking certain barriers whether racial or ethnic in the game of baseball.
MICK: Basically how long does it take you to complete a painting?
DICK: I try not to stay with a painting too long as I get anxious to nove on to the next one. The most I would work on a painting is probably about two weeks. Of course that would involve a lot of lettering of signage and things like that, multiple figures, etc...It could be anywhere from a matter of few days to a matter of a few weeks. There might have been a painting or two that were large and I spent more time on those.
MICK: Do you work on more than one painting at a time?
DICK: Sometimes I do but I prefer to just focus on each painting. Start it, complete it and move on.
MICK: I know you work in various mediums. What is your favorite?
DICK: I really like oil. Oil is something that took me a while to master. I was really a graphic designer and got into illustration through that field. I worked in water color primarily because it was the one medium that dries fast and easy to get to the printer to reproduce. There was a collector who bought a bunch of water colors from me and said "You've got to get into oils. That's where it's at". Most of the famous paintings you see in museums are oil mediums. It took me a while to master. Once I did it became a most forgiving medium. You can rub it off, you can paint on top of it, it's opaque, you can paint thin. It's a great medium to work with and it's everlasting as the colors remain vibrant throughout!
MICK: As someone who is very close to baseball as you are, how do you feel about the players accused of using steroids and other banned substances?
DICK: I'm really a fan of baseball's early age. I love the dead ball era, the golden age, the 40's and of course the early 50's. So what this use does it enhances the abilities of those players I grew up with. People like Hank Aaron have never been associated with the use of steroids. He hit 755 home runs! It's a very difficult question because some of these people like Barry Bonds. They were Hall of Famers before they started using the stuff. If in fact it does give you an edge, it is not a fair thing. It's really a serious and dark cloud that is hanging over the game today. Just witness the non induction year in the Hall of Fame this past year. A The guys that were up were associated with substances and nobody got in.
MICK: On another note, do you feel that Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame?
DICK: Yes I do. As a player, he was so dominating in his vigor for the game, his energy and accomplishments. He was the top hit getter. But he violated one of the things in baseball that is the biggest no no which is even above steroids but that will be up there too. Betting is the last thing you want to be associated with by even a little bit. It is something that major league baseball protects themselves from and Rose violated that. I don't think he was the kind of player who would vote against himself and then not put out. I don't think he ever threw a game. I think he played every game and managed every game with the intention of winning. I really don't think his ban will be a forever thing. So for his accomplishments as a player, he should be in. I say that because there are many rascals in the Hall of Fame and a lot of people who did worse things.
MICK: How did you originally partner up with Frank and Peggy Steele?
DICK: I was doing graphic art work and illustration design work for the Philadelphia Eagles. There was a player who played for the Eagles named Pete Retzlaff and he was the general manager of the Eagles and he hired an assistant whom I knew. I got to do work for them and when Pete Retzlaff left the Eagles, he got a license to a project with the NFL. The fellow I knew recommended that I write it and illustrate it. In this particular project, Retzlaff was partners with Frank Steele. That's where I met him. The project was a failure unfortunately. Frank had the same love for baseball as myself and he was also a collector of the relics of baseball.
He was an attorney and held a chair on the stock exchange and was retired from all that. One thing lead to another and I happen to be in the right place at the right time!
MICK: Does that partnership continue?
DICK: No Frank passed away in 2001. We had discontinued the Perez Steele Gallery venture because his wife Peggy said they were no longer interested in pursuing it. He was the main front man in the venture. He was the guy that got things done, got permissions, and all of those necessary activities that goes in the production of commercial products for the art work I was doing. Peggy is still associated with the Baseball Hall of Fame. There is an endowment that she has given to the HOF for the internship program there.
MICK: Do you still paint for Topps Baseball Cards?
DICK: Not now but I'm still on call with them. When I was originally asked to participate in the Topps products, I thought that was fantastic. They do a great job and they have a sensitivity to the game's past. I've always admired the cards they did way back then. Because I did those kind of paintings of early baseball, it was a natural tie in with them. Topps is the only card company licensed to do baseball. They are always looking to satisfy their audience whom they feel is mainly young people as opposed to collectors. They always want to do something fresh and new. I respect that as a business decision. They treated me real well, they are great people and they put out a terrific product.

MICK: Out of the thousands of paintings you've done, do you have any particular favorite?
DICK: There are so many. There is a painting I did of Chilli Davis for a Diamond Kings card in an art treatment which was kind of a departure for me and it really came out well. I don't know why but I really loved that painting. It's dynamic and not your usual portrait, a little more vibrant in color. There is a Ty Cobb that I did about a year ago which was auctioned off at one of the auction companies and got a nice price for. That was a large painting and considered that a good one. There are a number of paintings I love but it's trying to distinguish between the children!
MICK: Are you a collector also:
DICK: I was but there were a lot of things buried in drawers. I eventually divested myself from many of those things. I collected when I was really into the Perez Steele venture with Frank. I had an entire collection of news photos from the Philadelphia Bulletin. They went out of business and their entire baseball collection of photographs was sold to someone. They sold it to someone else and then I bought them. There were hundreds of photos that were fantastic. Eventually I auctioned them off. I do collect original travel books. I'm not into autographs or equipment, especially modern. I've been associated with the Philadelphia Phillies since 1972 so I do have some World Series rings and some Pennant rings that I will treasure forever.
MICK: What projects do you have coming up after the Agora exhibition?
DICK: Laying on a beach somewhere on a tropical island! It's been real hectic lately. Art is really a commercial activity. Even though the gallery has done a lot, there's a lot that I have to do too. I have a number of collectors of my own that I communicate with and prepare materials for and do email blasts for. Recently I also moved from Pennsylvania to New York and that alone was a big challenge because I was downsizing and had to set up another studio. So I don't know if I will be doing more sports related paintings. I always wanted to do just a regular landscape! I've done them but they are not in abundance in my portfolio.

Dick Perez: a solo exhibition of baseball's finest
March 26 - April 16, 2013
AGORA GALLERY 530 West 25th Street, New York, NY 212.226.4151
Visit to view a video about the artist.

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