Raleigh artist gives baseball greats new life on canvas

astewart@newsobserver.comJuly 29, 2013 

  • See portraits

    • Wake County Justice Center: 301 S. McDowell St., Raleigh

    9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Info: 919-839-1498 ext. 205

    • The Mahler: 228 Fayetteville St., Raleigh

    11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 12 p.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. Info: 919-896-7503

    • Artspace: 201 E. Davie St., Room 202, Raleigh

    10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Info: 919-821-2787

Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron are moving into downtown Raleigh’s Wake County Justice Center. Kind of.

Raleigh artist Pete Sack debuted his newest watercolor series, “Baseball Card Paintings,” at the Wake County Commissioners’ office on July 15.

The series features six portraits of baseball greats, including Aaron, Mantle, Frank Robinson and Carl “Yaz” Yastrzemski. Each portrait is a blown-up version of a vintage baseball card abstracted with colorful watercolors and oil paints.

The subject matter isn’t exactly new to Sack, 37. He began his art career around 13 years old, where he learned to draw by looking at images of baseball players from magazines. It was during that time when he developed a passion for painting the human face.

“I have so much fun doing it,” Sack said of “Baseball Card Paintings.” “It reminds me of why I did it in the first place.”

“Baseball Card Paintings” is the first art show at the Wake County Commissioner’s new office, funded by the United Arts Council of Raleigh & Wake County.

Jennifer McIntyre, art coordinator for United Arts Council, said she was approached in January by Sack’s representative and she selected his pieces for the space.

“His work seemed like a great choice to exhibit at the new Justice Center,” she said. “The baseball theme came up later, as he was just working on these.”

More paintings in Sack’s baseball series will be on display in August and the series will be at the Justice Center until Sept. 24.

Artist at work

Sack moved from Washington state to attend East Carolina University, where he earned his BFA in painting, and has remained in North Carolina ever since.

His art has adorned the walls of several local galleries, including The Mahler, Glance Gallery and the City of Raleigh Museum, which recently commissioned him to paint a portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh.

Admirers can stop by his studio on the second floor of Artspace most days and see him work.

With a base of watercolor layered by oil, Sack uses vivid color to reimagine photographs that inspire him. He abstracts the human figure and gives new narratives to old pictures.

“I’ve always been drawn to the ability to do something tightly rendered, almost like a photograph,” he said. “But I also want to push it further, and I add layer upon layer and see what comes out and then what else I can manipulate with it to make it more interesting to me.”

His process is a bit of trial and error, he says.

“A lot of times I’ll ruin a painting. I’ll be like, ‘I should have stopped 10 minutes ago.’ But then sometimes I’m like, ‘I nailed it.’ ”

His favorite art movement was the abstract expressionist age in San Francisco, he said, but he doesn’t necessarily model his art after any artist or movement in particular.

Behind Sack’s workstation are stacks of magazines and yearbooks. He pulls out a yearbook from a Durham high school in 1950 and another from Montreat in the ’60s. His parents’ yearbooks are around there somewhere, too.

“I’ll be flipping through with an idea in mind, and I’ll see a picture that I’ve probably seen a hundred times, and all of a sudden now it speaks to me. Then I’ll tweak it to make it my own. A lot of times, I’ll have one that I’ll reuse often.”

Nearly every painting in his studio is a human face; rarely does he go below shoulder-level. Most of the artwork features fiery, warm-colored brushstrokes. Earth tones make frequent appearances too. Red is his favorite.

“There’s passion in that color,” he said.

Just don’t ask him about green and purple. He hates them, and it’s complicated, and he won’t talk about it.

Sack says he tries to paint every day and prefers painting to other media because it’s fast work.

“I like to paint quickly,” he said. “I have a short attention span, so it allows me to do something in one day or a couple of hours.”

Stewart: 919-829-4568

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