Art and basketball: In the Paint dives into a sport already rich in culture and aesthetics

The In the Paint exhibition at the Local Gallery in Toronto. (The local gallery)

Pepe Bratanov, curator of the Local Gallery in Toronto, says Toronto is “a legitimate basketball city.” And it’s hard to argue with him. In addition to Toronto’s passionate support of the Raptors, it also has a thriving grassroots basketball culture. It wasn’t too long ago to see GTA kids making the NBA, WNBA, or NCAA Final Four an exciting anomaly. Now it’s almost expected.

In the Paint, an exhibition at the Local Gallery, features art from 13 different artists, celebrating the city’s basketball culture. The show started on April 13 and continues until April 30. The show’s pieces range from a dazzled basketball and a basketball covered in watch parts to a machine that shoots ping pong balls, painted to look like basketballs, through a hoop, over and over once, and almost never fails.

Mallory Tolcher is one of the artists featured in the show. His work takes the traditionally masculine world of sport and redefines it using “feminine” materials: think basketball hoops with crystal bead and lace netting, or tulle jerseys with floral numbers. She says she grew up as a hockey fan. She got into basketball through a college boyfriend who was a fan, but quickly “realized that basketball is the greatest sport in the world.”

A swimsuit in tulle and artificial flowers by Mallory Tolcher, as part of In the Paint at The Local Gallery. (The local gallery)

Tolcher says there are several reasons why basketball, in his eyes, lends itself more to art than other sports. The first is that the game is accessible, both in terms of participation and fandom. To play it, “all you need is a basketball,” she says. And as a spectator, there’s not the same barrier between the audience and the players and the crowd that you get in other sports.

“As someone who loved hockey, I remember going to my first basketball game and not having that barrier, that physical separation between the audience and the athletes,” she says.

The other reason, she says, is that basketball already embraces aesthetics in ways that other sports don’t – in ways ranging from sneaker culture to stadium DJs to music. how some NBA players became menswear pioneers.

Briony Douglas, whose contribution to the show was a rhinestone-encrusted basketball with the Raptors logo on it, says that for her, the nature of basketball itself — fast, frantic, always something going on — is part of it. what she finds inspiring about the game.

“It’s the most exciting sport to watch,” she says. “And so bringing that to life through art is exciting in itself. If I’m going to a baseball game, 90% of the time I’m not really paying attention. In basketball, I’m engaged all the time, and I think that translates into my art.”

Jay Vogler, aka JBV Creative is the creator of the jumping machine, titled “Jumping Through Hoops”. He admits he’s a bit of an outlier on the show.

“I’m not really a big basketball fan,” he admits.

Vogler is an engineer by training, having worked in the design of toys and golf clubs, among other things. He left engineering to apply his training to art, in part because he was tired of having to “do what marketing told me to do.” He says “Jumping Through Hoops” wasn’t originally intended as a basketball play.

“I just had this idea of ​​a catapult firing a bullet and then cycling,” he says. From there, he says he set to work figuring out how to bring his idea to life. He says that for him, coming up with the idea is “the most fun part”.

“Then it’s three weeks of sitting at the computer, clicking, spinning the model,” he says. “Three weeks to figure out how to screw this in and run this motor to run this part.”

He says the Bratanov saw an early version of the project and suggested he do it basketball-themed — make the ball receiver look like a net, put basketball leather on the backboard, paint the balls to look like basketballs – and added to the show

“I like to call him ‘The Steph Curry,’ because he almost never misses,” says Bratanov. “People sit here for like 10 minutes waiting for a miss. It’s basically kinetic art at its best.”

“Rhinestone Raptors” by Briony Douglas as part of In the Paint at The Local Gallery. (The local gallery)

Tolcher says there’s a real community among artists making basketball art, but traditionally that community has been online, and more so with the pandemic. She says she had been following many of the show’s other artists “for years” on social media.

“When Pepe reached out to me and asked if I wanted to be involved, I was like ‘obviously yes,'” she says. “Isn’t it perfect to have a basketball show in Toronto, just as the playoffs are starting?” But when the show opened, everyone was like, ‘Oh my God!’ and cuddle. We all got to know each other through that little circle on Instagram, but putting a face to the name and the art was amazing. I’ve never been on a cooler, more supportive show, ever.

Douglas seconded that sentiment.

“With these other people who also love basketball and also love to create, I walked away saying, ‘OK, what do I do next,'” she says. “You are so inspired and excited by your peers.”

Christopher S. Washington