Whether they know it or not, baseball fans have long been familiar with Dick Perez. For more than 20 years he was the official artist of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and continues to paint portraits of every Hall of Fame inductee.
His Perez-Steele postcard set, produced until 2001, are considered to be coveted collectibles in the marketplace. For many years he was the resident artist for Donruss trading cards, during which time his Diamond Kings cards became highly regarded. Since 1972 he has been the official artist of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Perez’ latest effort is a 560-page, full-color volume celebrating his work, the sport and its place in America through the lives of the members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Immortals – An Art Collection of Baseball’s Best (available in limited quantities only at http://www.Dickperezimmortals.com) contains not only all of the original art from the Perez-Steele Art Post Cards, but Hall of Famers elected since 2001, presented on its pages in the same style and manner as the classic set.
Also included among the more than 1,400 paintings are non-Hall of Famers, vintage uniforms, ballparks, and equipment. Accompanying text (which includes stats) is by historian William C. Kashatus. The book includes a foreword by art lover and Hall of Famer Tom Seaver.
Big Lead Sports spoke with Perez about the book and the unique way he depicts the sport of baseball.
Big Lead Sports: What was the inspiration for the book?
Dick Perez: I wanted to do something that had never been done before. For a long time I had a desire to visually chronicle the development of baseball, and pay homage to the greatest players of the game through the use of artworks alone. The Baseball Hall of Fame membership spans the history of baseball, but no real good action color photo images of 19th and early 20th century baseball exist to create a reliable visual timeline. Only research and illustration could accomplish that. My long career in painting baseball provided many images for the book, but that was only half the content. A grand complement of new works was necessary to fulfill my goal. There are over 1,400 illustrations in the book made up of portraits, action scenes, stadium and field landscapes, and genre scenes. These images provide a look at the evolution of uniforms, equipment and stadia.
DP: There is really not one piece that would stand out as my favorite. I guess that’s a good thing, since it means that I was successful in creating many pieces that reached, and sometimes exceeded, the standard I set out to attain. Among those are the narrative pieces (as opposed to the portrait works) that I hope inform viewers of the game. There is much visual content in a baseball scene, the green and gold fields, the skies, the grandstands, ancient billboards, and of course, the ballet and movement of the athletes. Many of these narrative pieces do not exist as a single photograph; they are made up of a series of photos, and my imagination, making the image more of a personal creation, and something that has never been seen before.
BLS: Why does baseball lend itself to literature and artwork more than perhaps any other sport?
DP: Again, it is an activity with an abundant visual content. The history of the game is loaded with stories of characters that inspired, became legends, or were out and out rascals. Baseball is the oldest among the popular American sports, thus it is endowed with a bigger history and longer popularity. Baseball came at a time when America was establishing its own identity in the visual and literary arts. As I mention in my book, up to the mid-nineteenth century American artists were greatly influenced by European art; landscape romanticism, classical realism and impressionism were all part of the old world; it was time to convey our own national identity with American subjects and pastimes. Baseball is about youth and dreams, fame and success, hard work and devotion. What better subject for the new American art and literature?
BLS: How does this book compare to other projects that you have worked on?
DP: It is the biggest project I have ever worked on. The book was three and a half years in the making, so it was the longest running, day in and day out venture I have ever undertaken. It required the most amount of research. And, it is a retrospective that features most of my life’s work, including over 300 new paintings. But most important it has been the most satisfying.
BLS: What has been the most amazing surprise from fans or former players captured in the book?
DP: During my career I often wondered whether the interest in my work was due to the subject matter, or my ability as a painter. The response to the book through the many emails, letters and critiques indicate that there is a measure of appreciation for what I try to accomplish as a painter. I can’t say I am surprised by this, I have always felt that there is a bevy of baseball enthusiasts who appreciate art for art’s sake, and recognize that there is nothing quite like a painting. I have a great amount of respect for photography. Great photographs can evoke emotional responses, but a photograph can’t replace the visual experience generated by the tactual effects of layered paint, the personal color choices of the artist, and the bravura of good brushwork.