If you are a fan of both art and baseball, and you don’t know the name Graig Kriendler, you are certainly missing out. With portraits that look like real images at a glance, there is no denying the value that Kriendler brings by digging out memories of ballplayers and their exploits and bringing them back to life again. I was able to catch up with Graig via email, and learned more about the man behind the brush.
At what age did you first decide to get into painting?
I got into painting at a pretty late age – maybe around 19 or so. And even then, it took a couple of years to actually feel comfortable with the medium. While growing up, I was always more comfortable with drawing (I had started when I was 3 or 4) – the idea of using color and using color whilst wielding a brush were pretty intimidating to me. They still are really, but in a different way. Interestingly enough, now I rarely draw. It’s always a race to jump into the painting process.
What made you decide to paint about baseball?
Growing up, I was always super attracted to my father’s baseball cards. Sure, I played in Little League like a lot of kids at the time, but there was something so exotic about his old Topps and Bowman cards from the 1940s and 1950s, something that I couldn’t really get out of being on the diamond myself. In the 1980s, in addition to playing ball and going to Yankee games with my family, my father used to sit me down on the proverbial knee and tell me about his heroes growing up: Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer, etc. For whatever reason – maybe because he still had those cards from his childhood – those guys just seemed more important than the then-current Yankees. It might have been because when I saw his old cards, I noticed that a lot of them were handmade illustrations, rather than straight photography (save the ’53 Bowman issues). I guess I made the connection that I could create my own cards, or just draw some of the people my dad grew up watching, and they would automatically be important to somebody. The seeds were planted then – we’re talking the mid-1980s. It wasn’t until my senior year at the School of Visual Arts (2001-2), when I did an illustration of Mickey Mantle that things came together. My portfolio professor gave the class an assignment to illustrate a ‘relationship.’ He would always make these assignments super general, so we could go wherever we wanted to with them. For whatever reason, though I hadn’t done any baseball-related artwork in years, I immediately thought of a battle between a pitcher and a batter. And from there, I made a jump to painting something for my father, something of his hero. And I guess it appealed to the obsessive nature in me, as it was super important to make it historically accurate. Not only did Mickey have to look like Mickey, but the ballpark had to be a specific ballpark. The advertisements had to be from the year I was taking the moment from. The weather even had to be right. I mean, I got it down to an exact moment that I was hoping to depict. Doing the piece – not just the painting, but also the research – just felt right. Thankfully for me, it’s felt right ever since.
Do you prefer to paint action shots or portraits of players? Why?
I don’t necessarily prefer action shots to player portraits or vice versa, but I do feel the need to have a healthy amount of both. When I first started painting this stuff, I always wanted to create these large panoramic paintings that were full of action. And while those are a lot of fun (and a lot of hard work), I feel like it’s good to have a break for the eyes – something that’s not as involved. Plus, the portraits allow me to focus on a single player and his/her history or persona, rather than trying to recreate a larger ‘happening’. They both satisfy different sides of me artistically, but I think in order for me to not go insane, there’s just gotta be a balance there. On the other side of the coin, the clients I have will dictate how many of each I may do in a given year. Typically, the action paintings are larger and as a result, pricier than smaller portraits. So in that regard, it can all come down to whoever is commissioning the piece and what he/she is comfortable with spending.
Have you ever met any of the players that you have depicted in your art?
) I’ve met a few of the players I’ve painted over the years. My favorite encounter was with Bob Feller in 2009. I presented him with a larger painting depicting his Opening Day no-hitter in 1940 (which was to hang in his museum), and he couldn’t have been cooler. I remember just meeting him and shaking his hand, which at over 90 years old, was still made of iron. There wasn’t a single part of that man that seemed frail, be it physically or mentally. I remember he looked at the painting for a bit and didn’t say anything at first. He then uttered, “That’s…that’s just the best damn painting I’ve ever seen.” Whether he was just being really gracious or genuinely felt that, I’m not sure, but he certainly made me feel like it was the latter. He went on to tell me that I had gotten so many of the details right, and they weren’t necessarily those that revolved around likenesses or uniforms. Apparently another artist had painted a similar scene from that day and had depicted it as this gorgeous afternoon with a packed ballpark, which Feller claimed couldn’t be further from the truth. It was a bitter cold afternoon at Comiskey Park, and there were 14,000 in attendance, far from capacity. He went on to tell me that my painting really felt like that day in 1940. I don’t think I’ve ever been paid a higher compliment.
Is there any specific piece of art that you are especially proud of creating?
I think the proudest I’ve been when finishing a painting was after completing a larger piece depicting the entire 1927 Yankees team. It was commissioned by a VERY patient client who’s a big collector of that particular ballclub, and there was just so much that went into it. The canvas itself was 44″ x 66″, so just fro the start, there was a lot of ground to cover. But in that span, there was also a ton of visual information. You had 31 main figures, 30 of whom were wearing pinstripes that were twisting, turning and undulating in space. Those 31 main figured also had faces that had to be not only recognizable, but fully realized. Somebody had to be able to look at Joe Giard and recognize him, just as he/she would be able to recognize Tony Lazzeri. In other words, no player could be more of a throw-away than another, despite how much playing time they may have gotten. Then, there was a crowd of about 100 spectators behind the players, all of whom had to have their own unique personalities. And, there was the architecture of Yankee Stadium itself, with rows and rows of seats, bannisters, numbers and other minutia. It just didn’t stop. The painting took years to complete – just a TON of elbow grease. When it was done, there was a sense of accomplishment (and relief) that I’ve never felt before. In the end, the painting was one of my best (in my opinion) and the client was super happy, which was just as important.
Who is winning the 2018 World Series?
For the World Series, man, I usually try to avoid these kinds of questions – it’s always such a crap shoot, especially this early in the season. At this point, the Red Sox are looking great, which is less than ideal for my Yankees. The Mets too are off to a GREAT start. I am a little bit worried about the chemistry in Flushing though, especially with what’s going on with Harvey. That’s the kind of stuff that has the potential to sink a team. That being said, I think deep down inside, part of me feels like it’s gonna be an Astros and Mets Fall Classic, with Houston repeating as champions.
At this point in the season, maybe it truly does take an artist’s eye to see the Mets in the World Series. If you’re interested in learning more about Graig or his artwork, you can visit his website at http://graigkreindler.com/.