Sunday, December 16, 2007

Walter Kravitz--Commissioned Artist at New Nationals Park

Walter Kravitz is an avid baseball fan. He is also a well known artist of large-scale drawings and paintings. Those two passions in his life have now merged together. Because Walter Kravitz was recently announced as The Artist for a special piece of art at New Nationals Park. The DC Commission on The Arts & The Humanities last summer put out calls for a large suspended work which will hang between home plate and first base on the Main Concourse. As fans enter New Nationals Park from Potomac Avenue, SE--the hope is that everyone will have the opportunity to reminisce about their love of the game. As, while viewing the expected work above their heads--all any fan has to do is nod his or her head down--where right in front of them--will be the actual field of play.

Walter Kravitz is a Full Time Faculty Member at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. A Professor of Painting and Drawing who has completed over 25 Public Commissions--including "U STREET SOUND"--the five story tall centerpiece of the Grand Entrance to The Reeves Center at 14th & U Street, NW. Ironically--Mr. Kravitz has also completed artwork for The Lerner Family. A work that sits in one of The Lerner's Office Buildings in Rockville, Maryland.

So, it just seems fitting that Walter was chosen as the artist for this new piece to be suspended at New Nationals Park. When Tony Gittens, The Executive Director for The DC Arts & Humanities told me that Mr. Kravitz had won the award to produce this piece--I contacted Walter to gauge his interest in speaking to me. He was willing and ready--as soon as he received his model back from The Commission. Recently, we got together and this interview is the result of that meeting. Being baseball fans--and knowing some of the same friends from George Mason University (SBF worked in The Sports Information Office at GMU many years ago)--we hit it off great. My original thoughts of chatting with Walter for thirty minutes--lasted 90 minutes. Honestly, he's just fun to talk to, as we have alot in common.

So--this will be a two part interview. Not only will Walter Kravitz discuss his upcoming Suspended Artwork at New Nationals Park, but he will touch on his love of baseball--growing up in Chicago--AS A WHITE SOX FAN!!!

Walter and I chatted in his Art Studio on Capitol Hill--standing beside the model of his intended work for the new ballpark.

With that--here we go:

“This is the piece. Each series of figures is going to rotate on their separate armatures which are square here (in the model). But, will be circular in the final piece. And, there will be a gap between the individual actions. The piece is geared toward these figures interacting with each other in direct baseball plays—outfield, batter/catcher, bunting, sliding—sometimes they get a little overwhelming on each other (laughing)—but that’s the kind of territory I like to cover.”

“What is going to happen is that the uniforms which you see (in the model) are somewhat generic to The Major Leagues—for the most part. They will probably change more along the lines of Minor Leagues or even Softball League Uniforms. They (the uniforms) will be brighter and more colorful. You can see some of that here in the model. I did a project down in San Antonio and I went to a AA Baseball Game down there and saw uniforms that were more like purples/oranges (both of us chuckling) and reds. Also, the pants were not always white.”

“When I saw teams play in the southwest, the uniforms were much brighter. A lot of that comes from The Mexican Leagues. Everything is decorative there—including sometimes—the grass isn’t even green—but its blue (both of us shaking are heads yes). They really go way out as far as making the stadium more fun.”

“So, The DC Commission (on the Arts & Humanities) wanted more of a generic look to the players. And I had no problem with brightening the uniforms—though I think the whites in the uniforms will help in lightening and brightening that whole concourse area (where the suspended piece will be installed).”

“As I was telling the commission. My memory of baseball is really through The White Sox—going with my Father to the games (at Old Comiskey Park). Then, seeing what Bill Veeck did to that Franchise. He took over the Franchise, I think, in the early 50’s. And, while tinkering-he was a good baseball mind besides being a pretty good entertainer—got himself a Championship in 1959. Of course, he got rid of my favorite player—Minnie Minoso. But, he received in return those who all did their part to win. The White Sox had (Nellie) Fox, Luis Aparicio, Al Smith playing left field--who hit about .220, but was the greatest clutch hitter of all time (we are laughing). I will never forget Al Smith coming up to bat. You just knew he was going to break open the game (recalling fondly). They had Sherman Lollar catching, Billy Pierce on the mound and Al Lopez was the Manager. I will never forget the 1959 World Series against The Dodgers. Billy Pierce was a great pitcher and did not start once. And, to this day—I CAN NOT FIGURE OUT why he didn’t get a start in The Series? Early Wynn seemingly pitched every game (throwing up his hands—Wynn started 3 of the 6 World Series Games in 1959 for Chicago). And, Ted Kluszewski played first base after they picked him up from Cincinnati.”

Its hard to forget Ted Kluszewski wearing no sleeves, showing his muscles. (SBF)

“Yeah, he loved to show those muscles. He was the Super Power Hitter. In the first game against LA—The White Sox won 11-0 and Kluszewski clubbed two homers. Any way—I have GREAT MEMORIES of baseball at Comiskey. Of course, as you well know—Chicago is really a Cubs Town. So, being a White Sox Fan was not easy (laughing)”

I know that. Oh, how I know that to be true. But, I loved Comiskey Park. The Original Stadium. The New Comiskey doesn’t do it for me. (SBF)

“Yeah, I agree. But, as nice as all those memories are (of Chicago)—I have started to give all that up for The Nationals. I went to a game against the Mets late this past season. We walked to RFK, and we are going to walk to the new stadium. I saw Dmitri Young play first base and he was all first base. He was after every ball. He would dive, hustle. He caught a low pop foul were he stretched out all the way—running after it. My daughter, who is a softball player and I were just amazed how such a big man could get around. We were sitting low and he was running right at us. If he can keep that up and also deal with the new guys (Lastings Milledge & Elijah Dukes), that will help a lot.”

Walter and I were having a nice time talking baseball. Really, its always fun chatting about the sport. But, we both had to get back to the topic at hand. Oh well. But later, we would digress a few more times.

I notice there is lighting on ground level in the model. Will that be in place at New Nationals Park? (SBF)

“The lighting seen here (currently on ground level) will be slightly changed. The light will come from the joists [side supports] and thrown into the figures—without throwing light in to the visitors and ball fans eyes. Also, the center structure will be a light source, as well. It houses not only lighting that will come out toward the figures, but also sound—which will play constantly.”

What kind of sound? (SBF)

“We are going to do a little quirky thing here. My idea was to play ‘Take Me Out To The Ballgame’ in about 10 different kinds of instruments or groups. The first rendition will be the old Gladys Gooding Organ Music from Ebbets Field (Brooklyn Dodgers). Then, I am going to get a group of musicians, maybe violin quartet to play the song. Maybe a couple of opera singers, a klezmer band—which is a jewish band. I will get an barbershop quartet to sing it. So, that will be continuously running while the figures are rotating. The figures will not start and stop—they also will move continuously.”

I was not expecting to see color. I was expecting more relief style figures all in cooper, aluminum—something more along those lines. (SBF)

“No, I was trained as a painter. The first thing that goes into my mind is color, activity, shape and area. I teach drawing--figure drawing. I take my students, quite often, down to the dance studio. We do a lot of drawings from the dancers who are preparing for various events. And while they (his students) are off looking at drawing the dancers—I do the exact same thing. I take out my sketch book and draw along with them.’

“I always think of my figures as close to dancers—as much as—doing what they do (represent is real life)—which in this case is playing baseball. But, I have had baseball experience. I played on my High School Team, too. I was a second baseman. I was very, very active, but after my sophomore year—I didn’t improve enough and the coach cut me from the team. Others had improved, I lost my starting position and had to move on. So, I ended up taking up wrestling. (Surprised me—I busted out laughing—Walter with a Big Smile on his face). Go figure. I don’t know.”

On the figures themselves—what are they made of? (SBF)

“You can see how intensive the light will be at night. 85% to 90% of all games are at night. This is when the piece will shine at its best. So, the lighting will be important.”

“That’s another variable. Originally, I had planned to use Komacel—which is a PVC. It has a corrugation in here (showing me) that is imperious to the weather. Thus, it can be used outside. And, this (picking up another piece of material) is a more permanent material that the company would be willing to warrant for a longer period of time, called Komatex. Its just more impervious. However, even with this (Komatex) which is PVC based—they would only warrant it for five years. That’s the best I could do, which wasn’t enough. So, I decided to use the material that I usually work with—which is a polycarbonate material. This material can bend with heat. And, the color I am going to be using is a pigment called acrylic urethane—which is permanent.

This particular piece is from the Old DC Convention Center—which is now torn down. My piece had to come down as well. This is actually 25 years old and still looking good. The material, to this day—remains very bright in the pigment.”

“Originally, the idea was to do the figures by scanning them after using Photoshop and Illustrator—then send them to a company call Fast Signs for the fabrication. Not only would they do the print—but also cut out the figures using their laser system. However, the whole thing fell through when [Komacel and Komatex] wouldn’t warrant the pieces for more than five years. Experience tells me, I can use polycarbonate material for extended life—its abrasion resistant, much tougher than Plexiglas. I have used that for years and I know I CAN WARRANT THAT!!! I told them (DC Commission on The Arts & Humanities)—I would warrant the piece myself.”

“That’s fine, and I will fabricate everything here in my studio.”

How big and how thick are these figures? (SBF)

“I have to make the figures so the bottom of anyone of them must be 10 feet from ground level. Then, a person would have a hard time reaching them. If the figures are vertical—they are six to seven feet in height.’ (Mostly life size—SBF) “Yes, they are life size. That was the idea. Now, I feel baseball fans want, myself included, a close reading. Most public art is to be seen in its entirety. My feeling is that if someone comes into [the ballpark from Potomac Avenue] and comes up the stairs and sees these figures rotating—they will get a good idea of the overall concept—but mostly they would want to also see the individual figures and their actions. So, making the figures close to life size was important to the experience—that makes those figures come to life for the viewer. Since the field is on the opposite side of the Potomac Avenue Entrance—viewers can walk right up, check out all the figures, and then go directly out to the field. Perfect."

“The Commission also, with the brightening of the uniforms, they also thought some representation from The Old Negro Leagues was needed. Now, I know that a Josh Gibson Statue is being made also. That's good. But, then they also wanted to represent various leagues and women. So, I did a little research into women’s baseball leagues during World War II and after. And, I checked into softball—since my daughter plays softball. I went online, checked out all the new softball uniforms—and they really are quite nice,--quite wonderful. But, I told the panel—even if I did include women—there would not be any real difference. The Uniforms made for women—are very much like those for men. They are not wearing skirts or anything.”

But women do wear shorts sometimes. (SBF)

“Well, my daughter played for a softball team actually called--The Washington Senators--right here on Capitol Hill. They went down to Florida to play in a Championship Tournament, and they wore regular length pants and socks—very much like Major Leaguers. But, here (playing locally) they wore shorts—not sure why. But, it simply is not going to be a big difference (no matter who is represented in the figures).

That concludes Part One of my conversation with Walter Kravitz--Artist for The Commission Suspended Artwork at New Nationals Park. Tomorrow, in Part Two--Walter will share a few more baseball stories. His brother was an AVID Brooklyn Dodgers Fan and Mr. Kravitz remembers how "The Yankees always killed us (White Sox)." Of course--we will continue our discussion of his upcoming artwork on South Capitol Street--including the expected date of delivery and installation.


Anonymous said...

Geez, that stuff looks like something J.J. Evans from the old 'Good Times' show painted.

Anonymous said...

I don't normally post anonymously, but don't want to show my name. This "art" looks like a poor cartoon. A mobile? Where in the hell is the WASHINGTON CENTRIC influence?