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Art: Elizabeth Ann James, Columnist
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July 2007
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Mike Fields' Touchdown at Kiaca
"The Soul of Football"

by Mike Fields

It’s as American as apple pie and as tangy as candy buckeyes – football! During July, Kiaca Gallery, 937 N. High St., will present “The Soul of Football,” an exhibit of oil-on-canvas portraits of Ohio State football players as painted by Mike Fields, a self-taught Columbus-based artist. A reception with live jazz and R & B is scheduled for Thursday, July 5 from 6 to 9 p.m. This is Fields’ first major exhibit, and his work had to pass the curatorial eagle eye of gallery owner Talle Bamazi.

In Columbus, loyalty to the Ohio State Buckeyes football team has become a litmus test for patriotism and good citizenship; yet, there has rarely, if ever, been a one-man exhibit of paintings dedicated exclusively to sports. Although football, pardon the expression, carries the weight of this unusual exhibit, basketball, baseball, NASCAR, and boxing are also represented.

There are 22 large paintings in the show. Troy (now, who can that be?) provided Fields’ postcard image, a chest-up portrait, 18 x 24 inches. Troy’s hands surround the ball in that familiar split-second grip, he’s calling a play, and the artist, who could have relied on a graffiti-like image, has painted with skill and subtlety the moment, the uniform and the eyes behind the plexiglass of the helmet. “The Soul of Football” has nuance, and that’s good! The subject, or course, is Troy Smith, recent Heisman Trophy winner, yet Fields refers to him simply as Troy.

Fields has appropriated and expanded a magazine cover on which the “Almost Championship Team” splurge like ancient heroes over the canvas. This is the stuff legend is made of – a moment which the great Woody Hayes might have alluded to as Trojan treachery, the dark night when the hidden soldiers broke out of the metal horse. Or, in a more proximate period, the dawn when the Great White Whale was harpooned and in rage up-ended – after which we see endless replays of Woody slugging a photographer until the youthful “Almost Champions” awaken from a lotus-filled paradise. This is a moment to remember, and Fields has captured it in a tall lively painting that is one of his best.

Tony Dorsett of the Cowboys, Frank O’Harris of the Pittsburgh Stealers, and Ron Springs of the Dallas Cowboys appear in Fields’ exhibit. And the great Eddie George is presented, like the media star he is.

Fields is a determined and skilled painter who, like many artists, works primarily from photos. He tends to keep things simple but dynamic. The high marks of his ouvre are those which include his own interpretation of events. Esteemed coach Jim Tressel, instantly recognizable, presides in a collage in which Earl Bruce, Woody Hayes, John Cooper and Paul Brown illustrate the tradition of coaching influences. Fields refers to this large painting as “kind of the Mt. Rushmore of coaches.” Yes, Fields is at his best when he includes a personal connection to the sport, and he should push this effort. His dark prescient portrait of race car driver Dale Earnhardt is striking and ominous.
From 1997: the first U.S. woman’s heavyweight boxing champion, Tiffany Logan – Fields’ oil portrait shows her as sweet and straight on, more like an attractive gym teacher than a boxer. There’s a story there, folks. It’s not a small thing, being the first woman heavyweight – and there were two kids to look after.

Fields likes to sketch, and there’s a swinging sketch of all-round athlete Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias (1914-1956) in the exhibit.

Fields says he always drew. While a kid, he drew everything: Creatures from TV cartoons and bears on the sides of cereal boxes. He played basketball at Northland High School.

A major influence, bridging the years, has been the talent and mentoring expertise of Aminah Robinson.

Fields’ sports art has garnered major donations to the American Cancer Society and to the National Arthritis Foundation. Mike himself suffers from major fibromyalgia and considers his art to be a lifesaver. “I can paint, and it’s hard for me to hold down a regular job, so I’m truly grateful I can paint. My hands slow down but I go on.”

“The Soul of Football” is a first-class show honoring sports. The high marks of Fields’ body of work include a personal interpretation of events, and we hope he continues that effort. The future promises a one-man show about jazz and musicians, and the few sketches I saw were lively and exciting.

Curtis Barnes
Curtis Barnes follows Mike Fields into Kiaca Gallery in August. Whereas Mike Fields is, well, almost young to enough to be an O.S.U. football player himself and is self-taught, Curtis Barnes, born in 1935, has had a long academic career during which he received the Paul Laurence Dunbar Humanitarian Award. He is now Professor Emeritus at Sinclair Community College where he began teaching in 1977. On the Web, one can see his acrylic and oil paintings tend toward the vibrant and geometric, toward moods and imaginary landscapes.

In his statement Barnes notes that he thinks of himself as “artist-husband, artist-father, grandfather-artist, and artist- educator, not so much by design, but by psycho-historical/herstorical forces” that shape his attitude, behaviour, and actions. “I don’t know that what I do as an artist has any significant meaning other than the fact that (thru images) I express reflect my fears, ignorance, and superstitions regarding the mysteries of the Universe.”

Kiaca Gallery is located at 937 N. High St.
Hours are Tuesday through Friday, Noon to 6 p.m., Saturday, 1 to 8 p.m.
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© 2007 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.