The “10 questions with…“ series involves interviews of various individuals with some connection to the Philadelphia Phillies or who have some other baseball connection.
The interviews take place in a Q&A format where I ask each participant 10 questions (I cheat once in awhile with a multi-parter) involving themselves, their history with the ball club and/or the game. I also usually hope to get their insight on the current Phillies team.
Respondents are asked to be as long or as short as they like, so content length on the answers will differ with each interview. Links to prior installments in the series can be found at the drop-down box in the “Phillies” section of our website toolbar.
Our next interviewee is Graig Kreindler, one of baseball’s best modern day artists whose most famous works just might be his portraits of classic ballplayers, especially from the Negro Leagues. He is the recipient of numerous awards for his work in portraying the game, including the American Sports Academy’s 2018 Sport Artist of the Year.
10 Questions: GRAIG KREINDLER
1. Your website (graigkreindler.com) describes you as “The Painter of the National Pastime”, a title which myself and anyone who is familiar with your work would fully endorse. How long have you been painting in general and what was your inspiration to first develop your talent in a serious manner?
GK: I’ve been painting since I was around 19-years-old, as it was a medium I was scared to death of beforehand. I think the combination of handling a brush and working in color was just super intimidating. Drawing, though, started at a much younger age – around 4 or 5 – and was primarily me trying to recreate my favorite cartoon characters, be it He-Man or people from G.I.Joe.
It was soon after that I discovered my dad’s collection of baseball cards. He had somehow managed to enter adulthood with some of the cards he had collected as a kid, even though his mother threw away a ton of them (like most folks of his generation). What he had left was mostly comprised of late 1940s and early 1950s Bowman and Topps issues. And if you’re familiar with those, you probably now that they were mostly hand-illustrated images, not photographs.
I think as a kid, I must have subconsciously realized that, and started to both draw my own and try to copy what my father had. I always gravitated towards his Mickey Mantle 1951 Bowman rookie, something that I knew had tremendous sentimental value to him (and still does). It wasn’t long after that I was drawing from his Mantle cards all the time.
As I grew older, I drew less. I think going through puberty and feeling awkward was the flavor of those years, and it just didn’t involve a ton of art-making outside of school assignments (with the exception of a brief sojourn into the world of comic art). When high school rolled around, I took the art a little bit more seriously – not necessarily because I was passionate about it, but because I thought it might be the only thing I was good at, and I should take advantage of those abilities.
2. Give us a little background on your personal art history at the School of Visual Arts in NYC and Lehman College in the Bronx? Any particular instructors or teachers who inspired you?
GK: When I came to the School of Visual Arts, I had every intention of becoming some sort of sci-fi/fantasy book cover illustrator. That was a path I had set out upon when I was apprenticing for a professional illustrator a year or so before school. I had always been into the genre (mainly through the imagery), and because of this connection, I was able to start thinking about making artwork that was professional grade. In other words, something I could make money off of.
I was inspired by a number of teachers there, and all for different reasons. There’s one, however, who still has a big impact on my life, and that’s an artist named Peter Fiore. Peter was an illustrator from the mid 1970s up until my time began at the school. He was basically a pro’s pro who found himself painting within a number of different genres, and over the course of a career had painted literally thousands of pictures.
What art directors were drawn to from his work was his attention to light and color, as well as his ability to manipulate those things to create a mood in his paintings. As a sophomore, I ended up taking his class – Painting the Light – because I fell in love with the course description. I didn’t know who he was or what his work looked like, but what I saw in that course catalog was golden.
That ended up being the beginning of an education on how to observe nature; different manners of applying paint; and most importantly, how to be conscious and sensitive to color – the very thing I was afraid of when I first started painting. It’s an education I’m still on the journey of as a soon-to-be 40-year-old.
I ended up being in his various classes many times over the three years I was at the school, whether I had enrolled in them or was just sitting in on them in order to soak up as much as I could. I even continued to take his classes after graduating in 2002. By then, he had left the illustration world and became a successful full-time landscape painter.
I’m absolutely blessed to call him a close friend now after twenty years, and he remains a constant source of inspiration both in art and in life. It sounds kinda weird, but I still look back at his friendship as being one of the best things to ever come out of going to SVA.
3. Is your painting a hobby at this point or have you been able to make a living at it as a full-time profession?
GK: I’m incredibly lucky in that I’ve been able to make a living completely off of my artwork for about 15 years now. It’s kind of crazy to think that, especially knowing how I left art school with such trepidation about the possibilities I’d have to not only make a living, but to do something I loved. Honestly, I thank my stars every day and am convinced that at some point, somebody’s gonna show up at my door someday and tell me that I’ve been ‘screwing around’ enough.
4. Obviously you love the game of baseball. Was it that simple love of the game that got you to focus your work in that direction, or is there a specific moment or time period that pushed you in that direction?
GK: Like I had mentioned before, I had attended SVA with the intention of being a professional illustrator. But as the first few years of being there progressed, the genre I originally set forth to make a name for myself in started to feel really stale. I had worked really hard while at school, but when I tackled projects, the desire to do the fantasy and sci-fi stuff wasn’t there like it used to be. It all felt stale. So, I floundered around for a bit up until my senior year.
A month or so after 9/11, things really changed. While in my portfolio class, we were given our usual bi-weekly assignment: the teacher wanted us to illustrate a ‘relationship’. He had always given us a general theme to create art to, leaving it up to us to mine within and interpret his subject matter in our own way. For some reason, the thing that immediately popped into my head was the relationship between a pitcher and a batter.
Like I did with most of those kinds of assignments, I started to sketch some thumbnails (small compositional roughs) to see if anything inspired me. And while I began doing that, I started to think of the details in the scene I was gonna paint. I thought that painting Mickey Mantle would be kinda fun – a throwback to when I was younger and used to draw him for my father.
I started to get kind of excited, and dove further into the process. Having learned to be meticulous with my research (which honestly fit very well with my OCD tendencies) everything had to be juuuusstt right. Mickey had to look like Mickey. And not only did the figure have to look like him, but whatever scene I was putting him in had to be just as true to baseball history.
So, his uniform had to be right. His batting stance had to be right. The bat he used had to be right. The ballpark I was picturing him in had to be a real ballpark. I went as far as starting to care about being as exact to a specific game moment as I could be. So, not only was I concerned about what ballpark the action took place in, but what was the crowd like that day? What was the score during the play? What kind of advertisements were on the walls of the ballpark that year? What color were they? How was the wind blowing that day? Did the sun shine through clear blue skies or was it a hazy day? I continued tor research everything – devouring as many books and websites as I could.
In the end, the scene I painted was a home run he hit at Ebbets Field in the 1952 World Series off of Ken Lehman. And, as hard as it was to exhaust every effort in an attempt to make it accurate, it felt REALLY great to do it. The process felt so rewarding, and definitely more than anything I had ever created up to that point in my life, really. And maybe more importantly, it felt like something I really wanted to do again.
That was the kind of thing that hadn’t really happened before – there wasn’t that unquenchable thirst to create within a subject matter. So, even though I left SVA feeling scared what was ahead (as I had mentioned previously), I felt like there was now a homing device or something that had been turned on. And that painting of Mickey was the battery.
5. Any one favorite individual human subject(s) that you’ve enjoyed working on over the years, and what about that person or persons makes them special to you?
GK: Even though I’ve only painted him twice, I LOVE working on Carl Hubbell. A lot of it has to do with my grandfather, who was a big New York Giants fan. He passed away a few months before I turned six, so I never really got to know him that much, nor talk with him about baseball. In fact, it wasn’t until I was an adult that my father told me that he was really into the sport.
He had grown up in the teens and by the time Hubbell was with the club, my grandfather would have been in his 20s and 30s, and I’m sure he would have really liked Carl. So I imagine him sitting in the crowd at the Polo Grounds when I’m painting Hubbell, and it’s just a nice way for me to connect with him in a more adult. I know that might sound a little bit cheesy, but it’s the truth.
6. You’ve done work on other sports. I particularly love “Sudden Death”, your painting of an old-time hockey tilt between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. Any favorite non-baseball work that you enjoy more than others?
GK: I really dig doing non-baseball stuff – it ends up being a refreshing break. In a lot of cases, it gives me an opportunity to learn more about a sport that I know little about. Hockey is certainly a prime example of that.
I’m in the middle of my first basketball painting right now, which I’m really loving because that sport is a semi-close second favorite. I feel like its history, while not as vast as baseball’s, is just as colorful and exciting. It doesn’t hurt that I was very much into the sport as a teenager, playing a ton and watching the Knicks of the early and mid-1990s religiously.
So, being a student of that game’s history as well, the idea of painting some of the older New York teams that my father grew up loving – especially the ’69-’70 team – is an incredibly exciting prospect. And let’s not forget the great Celtics and Philadelphia Warriors teams of the ’60s. I mean, there’s sooooo much there.
7. Have you enjoyed any major displays of your original work in galleries? If so, any particular shows stand out as favorites?
GK: My most favorite public display of work took place this past February, when 228 small portraits of mine were on display at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, MO.
The event was a large exhibition of artwork and artifacts from the collection of Jay Caldwell, a passionate baseball fan out of the Seattle area. He had approached me at the National Sports Collectors Convention (I forgot which of the three cities it was in that particular year) with an interest in commissioning a couple of portraits of his favorite Negro and Cuban League ballplayers.
The project started out as a semi-large one, though certainly doable at around 25 portraits. But as we got further into it and I think he got more excited, 25 portraits became 50. Then 75. 100. 150. 200. And eventually, 230.
It was through his planning over the course of those initial few months that we were able to hook up with the museum to celebrate the centennial of the Negro National League‘s in 2020, which they had yet to solidify any plans for. It ended up being something that I was working on for the better part of three-and-a-half years, so that opening night gala – February 13 – was the light at the end of a long tunnel.
And aside from actually being at the show in Kansas City to see it all come together, being welcomed so warmly by the folks at the museum (Bob Kendrick and Ray Doswell, especially) and everyone who came out to the gala, well, it was just something that I’ll never forget. I won’t lie, it didn’t hurt that later into the night of the event, I was able to get some fantastic barbecue and smell like smoked meat for a few hours.
8. Your original work is available for sale through your website graigkreindler.com and I’ve noticed a wide disparity in the prices on particular pieces. Is there a specific reason that a piece like “Athletic Aider” or “Rapid Robert Rolls” would be considered more valuable than a piece like “Red”, perhaps the work involved?
GK: In all honesty, the price disparity between the pieces is mainly due to size. The pieces you mentioned, say, “Athletic Aider” is a medium-sized painting at 26″ x 30″, so it retails for a decent amount more than the Red Ruffing portrait, which is only 16″ x 20″. The formula that I use is mainly related to a square inch price, which is the standard in the fine art world.
In that same regard, a 16″ x 20″ portrait of Mickey Mantle will retail for the same amount as a 16″ x 20″ portrait of Joe Collins – it doesn’t matter how popular or ‘sell-able’ a player is. I find that that’s the only way to stay consistent and make sure that my work is treated more like fine art than collectibles.
Not that there’s anything wrong with those who do it that way, but I’d hate to work on two identically sized paintings and have one go for twice as much only because of the content of the piece. I’m hoping in the end, if there is a secondary market for my stuff, that they’ll catch onto that kind of thinking. Maybe.
9. Any favorite works that you have ever done on commission? Maybe a couple of stories that stand out in that facet of your creative process.
GK: One of my favorite works – or at least the one that probably took the most lifeforce out of me – was a large painting of the 1927 Yankees. The canvas was 66″ x 44″, so, ya know, big. Bigger than me (admittedly, that’s not a hard thing to achieve). Anywho, in the image, there are 31 main figures in the foreground, 30 of whom are wearing pinstriped uniforms. Pinstriped uniforms that are turning, crossing and undulating in space. And each player has a very discernible face. At that size, each one was about an inch-and-a half, so definitely large enough to see some detailed features.
Obviously, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri and Miller Huggins had to ALL look like they should. They were the most well-known figures of the group. But, that couldn’t take anything away from the other players – people like Cedric Durst, Pat Collins, Joe Giard and Julie Wera. Those guys had to have JUST as much attention paid to them. In other words, a lot of portraits.
I also went crazy researching these guys – what color their eyes were, the shades of their hair, skin tones, and in one case, even a little tidbit that pitcher Bob Shawkey preferred to wear a red-sleeved undershirt underneath his jersey.
In addition to all of those main portraits, there were the stands and stadium architecture behind the team. Something that was man-made like that had to be as perfect as possible. The seats, the rails, the stairs, the facade of the second deck, the net – all of it. And lastly, the 50 or so spectators than are in those stands who each have different clothing on and need to have their own personalities.
I don’t want to say exactly how long to paint the whole thing, but I’ll put it like this: My client was INCREDIBLY patient. And in the end, I know he was (and still is) incredibly happy with the painting. Which is a good thing, because it damn near killed me.
10. Do you have a favorite team now? Any favorite player(s) in today’s game?
GK: I was born a Yankee fan, so I suppose I’ll always bleed pinstripes. However, I also just love the sport, so I’m happy to watch any team play, be it professional or amateur.
In terms of a modern player who I love, though he recently semi-retired, Ichiro Suzuki was a favorite. I absolutely love how he played the game, how he was an absolute craftsman with the sport. And at the same time, he was just this skinny guy who learned about the science of hitting and relied on his speed to succeed.
There’s something about that that’s really appealing to me – that’s the stuff I find super sexy, not necessarily home runs. Maybe in some way, I wish that the Yankees had more players like that – guys who played smart baseball and weren’t swinging for the fences. Though I was super excited when Ichiro came to New York, I found myself wishing it had been 10 years before.