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The art of basketball

My interview with Bay-Area painter — and Warriors’ fan — Joel Tesch.

“Thrill of Victory”
Joel Tesch

With perfectly executed game plans that could have come from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, the Golden State Warriors took care of the Portland Trail Blazers in a clean, four-game sweep to advance to the second round of the NBA Playoffs.

As with battle of any type, the path out of the first round was not without complications. Head Coach Steve Kerr was unable to coach in Games 3 and 4 due to illness, Kevin Durant, still rehabbing a calf strain, missed Games 2 and 3, and other players (Matt Barnes, Shaun Livingston and Kevon Looney) also missed time due to injury.

Yet, the team did not panic.

They locked in and locked it down, like the pros that they are.

The road to championship bling is a long one, and Golden State has a lot of ground to cover to reach its ultimate goal. But the Warriors’ poise, skillful play and fight inspire jaw-dropping awe in even the most casual basketball fan. Today, we celebrate this team’s greatness and spirit ... with art!

I recently had the opportunity to interview Bay-Area painter Joel Tesch about his love of basketball, painting and the reasons he captures Stephen Curry in acrylic more often than any other player.

“The Shot”
Joel Tesch

Tamryn Spruill: Tell Dub Nation about your love of basketball. How did you fall in love with the game?

Joel Tesch: The simple answer: I grew up in North Carolina. You can’t do that without having basketball in your blood.

TS: How did you become a Warriors’ fan?

JT: There are a lot of reasons. In college, one of my buddies always had to play as Golden State in our NBA Live game on the Sega Genesis. This was in the Mullin, Hardaway, Sprewell, Webber era. So I started keeping up with the Warriors from then on (although I wouldn’t have called myself a fan yet).

Later on in life, I moved to the Bay Area and didn’t really have an NBA team allegiance, so I adopted the Warriors. It helped when they drafted Steph, who I had seen score over 20 points the previous season against my Tar Heels. And I had been a big fan of Dell Curry, having watched him live several times in college when I would visit Charlotte and see the old Charlotte Hornets play.

And Steph even lived briefly in Orinda, where my family and I had moved.

TS: Did you or your family have any run-ins with the Curry clan during the time they lived in Orinda?

JT: We had a lot of almost run-ins. “The Currys were just here!” at the local toy store, or restaurant. Their family was very much beloved in our town. It was cool seeing all the local stores putting up banners during the playoffs.

TS: Most of your paintings are of Stephen Curry. Is this because he’s the face of the franchise? Or is there something special you admire about him or his game?

JT: I think he’s genuinely a good guy, which helps. Plus, I have a North Carolina connection, just like him. But mostly it’s because he’s my kids’ favorite player.

He’s also got great eyes … which are fun to paint.

“Golden Boy”
Joel Tesch

TS: As you know, I am also a literary writer. Sometimes I face scrutiny from folks in the literary community who can’t understand my love for such a “base” or “Neanderthal” endeavor like sports. I recently replied to one such skeptic by describing elite basketball as ballet — how the graceful hand movement of a teardrop layup reminds me of the delicate arms of a ballet dancer, how a crisply executed play resembles the precise choreography of an up-tempo scene, how people do the impossible with their bodies: dance on their tippy toes for hours or shoot a ball that is nine inches in diameter through a hoop that is 18 inches in diameter ... from a distance of about 50 feet away.

I doubt most basketball fans would see ballet in basketball, but many have referred to basketball as an art form. Do you view basketball as an art form? Do you notice any similarities between basketball and painting?

JT: Basketball at any level has a lot of precision to it. And I agree with you that there is a lot of grace and fluidity … but it is also primal and rough. The first time I had a front row seat I was shocked at how brutal the game was. Intense, hard-hitting, but graceful all at once. I suppose guys like Steph, KD, Klay, etc. are artists in their own right. They create their move set; they have their own style. They’re just much better at their art form than I am at mine!

TS: But you get a lot of commissions for your paintings, so you’re definitely doing something right! Tell us about the paintings you’ve completed so far — the most recent of which depicts Steph with Kevin Durant. What led you to include KD on the canvas?

JT: I just had to! KD is such an integral part of this team now. I still remember the buzz at the Orinda July 4th parade last year when he signed with the Warriors. Almost everybody was talking about it. I mean, 80-year-olds, soccer moms and dads, kids … It was so cool. I’ve been meaning to expand my Warriors’ roster of paintings with others, and KD was the perfect opportunity.

“Dynamic Duo — Durant & Curry”
Joel Tesch

I also just completed a painting of Roy Williams after my Tar Heels won the NCAA Championship. I’ve also done Coach K … although my interpretation of him was certainly done through Carolina blue glasses.

“Coach K”
Joel Tesch

Steph still gets the most [commission] requests, though.

TS: Do you paint from mind memory? Or do you refer to news photographs as a starting point? What else would you like to tell us about your process?

JT: For portraits and likenesses, I’ll use a reference. If I don’t, my people come out way too cartoon-y. For everything else, I typically will do a mix of memory, imagination and a combination of visual references.

TS: If the Warriors win it all, should fans expect a grand celebratory painting from you? Oh, no pressure or anything.

JT: Absolutely! Maybe a Magnificent Seven-style pose with Draymond, KD, Steph, Klay, Pachulia, Iguodala and Coach Kerr!

The Warriors will face the Jazz in the semifinal round if Utah can shut down the LA Clippers tonight. This will put Golden State one step closer to the trophy — and Warriors’ fans one step closer to a Magnificent Seven-style painting of the team.

For more on Joel Tesch’s pop art and portraits, click HERE.

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