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SSTN Interviews Artist Andy Brown

SSTN: Today we are here with artist Andy Brown an award-winning British artist who has traveled the world documenting baseball through his painting. He has painted over 90 ballparks in over nine different countries all within 9 innings. In 2019, he became the first artist to paint all 30 MLB ballparks live, traveling the length and breadth of North America during the 150th season of professional baseball in the United States. Andy Brown has received recognition for his art work from ESPN, MLB network, Fox News, BBC, Buckingham Palace and many more.

There is also a question about his artwork in the board game Trivial Pursuit.

Andy, it is great to have this discussion with you. Thanks for coming to Start Spreading the News.

You are welcome Paul… Love the blog! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me.

Please begin by telling us a little about your background in art and what drew you to baseball.

I have painted and drawn for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories are of drawing cartoon characters. Oddly enough my Mum found one recently of a baseball player I would have drawn at maybe 6 or 7 years old. I’d have had no idea about baseball at that age.

As a teenager I remember learning about Picasso and seeing Hans Holbein’s painting ‘The Ambassadors’. Both were ‘lightbulb’ moments, from then on art was my main focus in my education and life.

I studied Fine Art Painting at Loughborough University before teaching Art from 2003-2019, in both the UK and Korea. Along with teaching I have always been a practicing artist creating and exhibiting my work around the world.

In 2019 I left teaching to focus solely on my Art. This started with capturing the two games of the MLB London Series 2019. (see interview with Rob Manfred discussing my work – https://www.mlb.com/gameday/yankees-vs-red-sox/2019/06/30/565068#game_state=final,lock_state=final,game_tab=videos,game=565068)

When I first moved to Busan, Korea, in 2009, I was invited by an American friend to a Lotte Giants game. Baseball was a sport I had only ever seen in Hollywood films and photos – never live. I vividly remember the atmosphere and colors of that first game – the green expanse of the field – the unusual layout and markings, the cheers of the crowd and the spectacle of the game itself.

A few years after that I moved to Seoul and was in easy reach of five different KBO teams and started following the league more closely. Travelling more to different ballparks I started to appreciate the history and culture of baseball more and wanted to document the different ballparks with their own locations, traditions, fans, uniforms and so on. My interest grew further taking me on tours overseas to see and paint baseball culture in nearby countries such as Japan, Taiwan and China.

That is amazing. Fantastic, just fantastic!

It was a goal of yours to get to every MLB ballpark in 2019. Did you achieve this goal?

I did. I never would have imagined just a few years before that I would have embarked on such a trip, but my profile and work had received growing recognition and appreciation from fans, teams and players in the MLB, KBO, and NPB. I was in Taiwan in 2018 on a trip painting their ballparks and met some of the players and officials from the CPBL who invited me back to paint the playoffs. I felt it was the time to focus solely on my artwork so left my job and home in Korea to paint all 30 MLB ballparks.

Your timing was perfect!

How did the lockdowns and empty stadiums last year impact your painting? Do you ever paint scenes from photographs or other sources?

Not being able to travel has impacted my work greatly. I was in Cuba and Mexico painting the winter leagues in 2019-2020 and came back to the UK for a brief break in February. I was due to head back to Mexico for the summer league, but I have had to stay in the UK as a result of the pandemic. I will get back to ballparks as soon as it is possible and safe.

Not being able to travel has meant I have had to adapt, so have set up a studio in my parent’s back garden. I have been painting baseball ‘Dream Teams’ made up from social media users’ suggestions and polls on the ‘best’ layers from different franchises and leagues. I feel these paintings really look at the nostalgia and our own memories and associations to sports. It’s a very powerful thing. So far I have painted Yankees, Dodgers, ‘All Time’ and Negro League Dream Team artworks.

Being back in the UK, I have also made a football (soccer) dream team using the same process. Along with that I have been completing commissions and personal projects on ballparks and players.

Currently I am working on a series painting the Premier League (Soccer) stadiums. Unable to travel due to the lockdown, I am travelling using Google Earth.

All of this work uses photographs and previous sketches as my primary source material. This works fine, but for me I love being on location feeding off the atmosphere and infusing it into the paint and brushmarks.

Please tell us about the medium you use to paint these ballpark paintings. Do you do most of your art this way?

I use oils on canvas mostly in my work – especially for my ballpark paintings. Oil for me is to me the ultimate medium due to its appearance, smell and texture. When on the road it presents many practical challenges however – mostly due to the lengthy drying times (can be 4-5 days), but I usually use a medium to help speed this up. I have found myself a number of times now having to stay up all night using a hairdryer to try and dry work before an early morning flight so it isn’t always ideal.

I do love also using watercolor and gouache as these give a very different effect – they are also much more practical to use when on the road. I love using color in my work and I find with watercolor you can really get a clarity and purity to it.

Hearing this is so fun, it’s like learning about the game within the game. There is so much that you consider when you work.

Of all the MLB stadiums you have visited, which have been your favorites?

I have loved all the ballparks I have been to – from the smallest independent teams to the major league ballparks. It is very hard to pick individual ones out as so much makes up the experience of visiting a ballpark.

Oracle, PNC and Camden are all gorgeous with superb locations and views, but I have to say Fenway for me is always hard to beat (sorry Yankee fans). As good as the ballparks are in SF, Baltimore and Pittsburgh the authentic feel in Fenway is ever present. To me you can sense the history of all the players and fans before who have played and cheered there. I am not a Red Sox fan, but if i was given the chance to paint an entire season anywhere in the MLB, I think it would be in Boston.

I have only been to Fenway once, but it was a tremendous experience. I’ll have to go back.

How many times have you been to Yankee Stadium? How does it compare to the other ballparks in America?

I’ve been to Yankee Stadium four or five times. I used to visit Long Island often on holiday a few years ago and would always go into the city to watch the Yankees or Mets when a chance arose. It’s a magnificent stadium – I love how the impressive exterior (reminiscent of the Coliseum in Rome) really sets the visitor up with the idea that you are somewhere special – which really reflects the grandeur and history of the team. I am always fond of ballparks within the city and Yankee Stadium is perfect for that. It really does feel like a neighborhood stadium being in the heart of NYC.

My best moment there was last year on my trip around the majors. On the day I was there it was CC Sabathia’s send off. There was a highly emotional atmosphere with everyone wanting to say goodbye to CC and celebrate his achievements in pinstripes. I was very lucky to have been there to capture it all.

It is such a gift you have through your art to get to live your dream and be part of so much.

You have traveled to baseball stadiums around the world. Please tell us about your experiences in Japan. It must be so much fun to see a game there.

Japan is one of my favorite countries to watch baseball in. I find Japan to be a very special country and culture – fantastic food, people, and baseball culture. The fans are very knowledgeable and passionate about their teams and the players they root for.

My favorite ballpark in Japan (and maybe worldwide) is the Koshien in Osaka. It is where the Spring and Summer high school tournaments are held. It’s a much revered tournament and each team is desperate to win and perform well. Each school brings it’s brass band and students who sing and dance a routine of supportive cheers while their team is at the bat. It makes for a mesmerizing spectacle.

One day I’ll get to see a game in Japan. I have promised my son Ethan that we’ll get to a Tokyo Giants game.

Please tell us about your other baseball works such as The Dream Teams.

How do you determine which players get featured on those works? (Thanks for including Graig Nettles, my favorite player, on the Yankees one.)

The Dream Team canvases are formed using twitter and social media polls and suggestions.

During lockdown I found it a good way to interact with other fans who were at home and in the anxiety of the covid pandemic. I felt it gave a chance to dream and reminisce a little on better and more secure times.

Generally I was painting one player in per day so polls would run for 24 hours and I would fill the next position in. It made for a very hectic schedule but the results were well worth it creating a very unique experiment creating a totally unorthodox fashion. It is rare to be painting a piece like this where the elements of the painting are so unknown – it was a great challenge of my own compositional skills to make the pieces ‘work’ as a whole.

The pieces do work. You have such talent and skills.

Are your paintings for sale? How would someone purchase one?

Much of my work is for sale on my website: www.andybrownstadiums.com

If you cannot find something you want, or you want to commission a ballpark or painting of a player I am available to do so.

I hope many people reach out to you!

In the book and the movie The Natural, the main character wants nothing more than to walk down the street and have people say, “There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was.” Who was the best baseball player you ever saw?

In one of my first seasons really understanding and watching baseball regularly Byung Ho Park was tearing up the KBO. He played for the Nexen Heroes (now Kiwoom Heroes) and at that time was hitting home runs daily almost! He was great fun to watch.

The year after he was posted to the Twins in the MLB, but sadly his career didn’t go as he probably would have liked. I’ll still never forget those early days cheering him on in Mokdong, Seoul.

Our final question is really just a collection of short answers…

What was your favorite baseball team growing up?

I knew very little about baseball growing up. I had a Mets cap when I was a teenager – but I didn’t know who they were. The first team I really supported was the Nexen Heroes (now Kiwoom Heroes). When I was growing in my early 30s I supported them!

Who was your favorite player?

I remember watching Ken Burns’ baseball documentary while I was in Korea and loved when Bill ‘Spaceman’ Lee was interviewed. He really caught my imagination and came across as a bit of an ‘outsider’. After finding out a little more about him and seeing images of him wearing an Astronaut costume on the mound he quickly became my favorite player. I generally like pitchers as I feel the way they craft, shape and perfect what they do is akin to the work of an artist.

What is your most prized collectible?

I have many items I have bought/found/collected around the world at different ballparks or been given. I have a few which are very dear to me. One would be a ball from the 2017 World Series signed by Tony Watson who was the winning pitcher for the LA Dodgers in Games 4 and 6.

For two World Series’ I have painted each game’s winning pitcher. After painting those pieces of Tony, he got in touch asking to buy the works. We made a deal – part of which was a signed ball. I didn’t expect it to be a World Series ball, so I was delighted when I saw it!

I also have a couple of balls which I threw out when I was in Mexico for the first pitch. Those experiences were so surreal – I never expected I’d be asked to do such a thing.

Last is a pin badge from the Field of Dreams moviesite. I was there on my trip in 2019 and found it to be a very magical place. For the rest of my journey in the US and into Mexico and Cuba I wore it whenever I was painting hoping some of that magic would be with me.

Who is your favorite musical group or artist?

I love many kinds of music, but I love listening to Bob Dylan records most. Dylan’s story telling, characters and the scenes that he sets are like no one else.

What is your favorite food (if it is pizza, what is your favorite pizza restaurant)?

Kimchi Jiggae – Kimchi Soup from Korea

Tacos – from any Taquería in Mexico

Baked Ziti – from Long Island

Sausage and Mash – from home

Please share anything else you’d like with our audience –

I am also always looking for new leagues, teams and events to work alongside – please get in touch via my website and please follow me at the following places:

www.andybrownstadiums.com

twitter.com/andybisanartist

instagram.com/andybrownisanartist

This was so much fun. Thank you Andy for taking this time to talk with me and to share your passion for art, baseball… and life.

Please keep in touch.

I wish you continued success – always!

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