“Bonus Life”: The Art of Baseball by Joel Arquillos

I recently came across an artist named Lee Walton who has found a way
to make baseball into art.  Heís a performance artist, musician,
painter, educator and art mover (day job) whose passion for baseball
and life are quite unmatched.  My friend Mike who lives in SF
commissioned a drawing by Lee that caught my attention.  The piece
was in four parts, made up of watercolors and pencil on paper. 
The piece was composed of a series of lines and imperfect watercolor
drops on the page, cleanly spaced like a subway map or an architectural
draft of sorts.  No distinct form that I could decipher, just
shapes and quickly scribbled writing at the foot of the piece serving
as some sort of legend.  Turns out these drawings were an
interpretation of a recent three game series between the Giants and
Dodgers and an extra Giants game from a later date when they won, ìI
couldnít give Mike a total lossî, says Lee as we slurp our frozen happy
hour margaritas at Bennyís Burritos in the lower West Village of
Manhattan. 

One of his baseball pieces is hanging in a gallery called White
Columns, not too far from the margarita joint.  It stands about 15
feet high and three feet wide.  His art is a combination of
baseball statistics and a geometry of which he alone is the
controller.  He describes his approach to his art to ìgoing on a
trip. . . you sit shogun and let the person get you thereî.  
In Leeís world, baseball is the driver that will determine his
course.  ìI try to set myself up for an experience that is
unpredictable.  I donít have an idea and then execute it. . . I
donít go get itî.   Unlike many artists and even musicians
who want to create that perfect work of art, Lee lets chance decide. He
creates experiential art or as Lee prefers ìbonus lifeî.

Before a game Lee creates a series of instructions for painting
according to a handful of game outcome possibilities.  For
example, a double will be displayed as a blue line in the direction the
ball travels, while a homerun will have whatever property Lee decides
to assign it that day.   He then listens to the game (his
preferred media) and paints accordingly.  ìI wanted to find a way
to listen [to] baseball and make drawings at the same timeî. 
Sometimes he takes down stats while listening to a game and paints
afterwards.  Another approach is he makes an imaginary diamond on
paper and takes stats by marking where a ball lands on the field. 
The end result is an abstract depiction of a baseball game.  No
broken bats or fans or some romanticized depiction of Pedro Martinez
pitching, just a collection of lines and boxes that characterize the
symbiotic nature of man and motion rather than the momentary bliss of a
great play.  But best of all, for Lee at least, ìwhen the game is
over, Iím doneî.   Done until the next game or the next
project.

Lee believes that art is more than a solitary act, it can be a game in
itself.  Heís created projects where he and a group a friends will
follow a game on the radio and move about NYC according to a set of
pre-arranged instructions.  For example, if Jeter gets a double
that might mean that the group will spread out and each will have to
find a nearby mailbox and stand on it until the next play,  In the
end, the group becomes scattered throughout the city, each having
experienced the game and the environment in a totally new way. 
This approach to art is not new.  Similar activities took place in
France years ago where a pair of dice would motivate the players
movement in a ìchance walkî.  Leeís approach does take away from
the simpler, passive, sitting at the game, munching on peanuts and
sipping copious amounts of beer approach many of us prefer, but it
could be fun for a change, or not.

Lee grew up playing baseball in Carmel, CA.  He was recruited by
Sonoma State University to play ball but preferred rocking out with his
band ìGreasy Spoonî and partying.  He eventually got his BA
without making it into the big leagues.  So instead he decided to
go to the California College of Art in Oakland where he received his
Masters of Fine Arts.  While in grad school he felt he shouldnít
be wasting his time watching baseball since so much money was being
spent to become an artist.  So he figured out a way to combine the
two things he loved most. You can check out more of his art and bio at
his page www.leewalton.com.

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