The Art of Baseball
By Karen Nystedt
Artist Steven Derks gave up Catholicism for baseball. It wasn’t an intellectual decision. He was only five when the trade was made. “I would sit in church wishing I was out on the baseball field,” recalls Derks, who grew up in the 1960s and ‘70s. “I was still going to church, but I wasn’t really there. I was conjuring up ways of converting the church – literally, the physical dimensions of the church – into a place to play ball.”
The young Derks was living in Iowa at the time. There were no black people in his hometown. In fact, outside of the television and movie screens, he had never seen a black person, yet all of his heroes were black baseball players. “I worshiped them,” he now explains. “Baseball was virtually a religion to me.”
In recent months, Derks has relied on memories of his infatuation to inspire “Breakfast of Champions,” on exhibit at the Redeemed Art Gallery. Derks describes this new work as “a non-heroic interpretation of the sport, inspired when facing baseball as a divine game with mystical qualities.”
“With this show, I’m trying to look at baseball with more of a poetic perspective. I’ve chosen not to include any individual players, team logos, or for that matter any contemporary views of baseball. It’s a view of it form the late nineteenth-century. It has that aesthetic—distilled down to the simple forces of a ball and a bat.”
In fact bats and balls are the only recognizable symbols of the game that appear in the assemblages, mixed-media paintings and sculptures that are featured in the exhibit.
“There are two things happening here,” says Derks, pointing to two mixed-media paintings on the wall behind his desk. “This is a beautiful object whether you like baseball or not—it is a fine-crafted object . It illustrates and it confronts. It has a lot of other potency. A prime example is the painting “Play Ball” has a certain narrative quality – it’s three-dimensional, has text, and goes where I want to go with the show.”
Derks considers his studio and gallery a laboratory of trial, error and development. He rarely considers his art complete, and, for that reason, seldom signs it. The work evolves over the course of a show as he cannibalizes elements and techniques used in one or more paintings and/or sculptures for use in others. His objective is to ultimately strike a balance between aesthetics, confrontation and story.
“Baseball has always been spiritual,” says Derks. “There was a certain agrarian seasonal aspect to baseball that got people emotional. They had a visceral experience with it. The cities came and took it over, but there was a time when you couldn’t travel the countryside without seeing baseball games all the time. Now, it’s not the case. I’m hoping, even though there are modern, contemporary views of baseball, that I can convey both the agrarian and the contemporary. ”
Karen Nystedt is a DesertLeaf editor.