Kyle Banister on Rockies predictions, opening day, and why some say his art isn't art

Categories: Art, Q&A

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"Todd Helton," pencil illustration
Baseball season officially starts today (in Tokyo), and artist Kyle Banister couldn't be more excited. He'll be performing a live sidewalk chalk-art exhibition at the corner of Blake and 21st streets during the Rockies home opener on April 9, he's the resident artist for Root Sports this season, and he's got a baseball-themed show at The Lobby, featuring his own baseball art, as well as that of curator/Westword MasterMind Eric Matelski and Ken Papaleo, former photographer for the Rocky Mountain News, opening in mid-April.
Banister's also drawn baseball pieces at the Denver Chalk Festival for the last three years, and is now gearing up for a fourth installment in June.

Banister took some time from his baseball-related ventures to talk with us about why some people don't see what he does as "art," how he helped the Rockies go to the World Series playoffs, and his hopes for the upcoming season.

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Todd Helton scorecard, while drawing at Coors Field.
WestwordAre you from Colorado? Are you a Rockies fan?

Kyle Banister: I was born and raised in Denver. I travel all over, but I come back all the time. I am actually third generation Coloradoan. And, oh yah. I've been a Rockies fan since before day one. My son was actually a bat boy at their camp at the old DU field, so that whole summer of '92, I was out there watching.

I take credit for their run at the World Series in '07. I made bats out at Coors Field for three years, including during their run, and the day the streak started, the infamous streak, I cut my arm in the blade cutting a bat, and on the way to first aid, I told everyone, "We're going all the way." You bleed for the team, and the team wins. But people always joke, that if I had let the cut go a little deeper, they would have won it all.

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"Gibson's Guns," pencil and marker drawing of Josh Gibson; juried second place in the 2011 Jerry Malloy Negro League Competition, displayed at the National Art Museum of Sports.
How did you start making baseball art?

It was just a natural evolution. I've always liked to draw and create and since baseball is one of my favorite pastimes, they morphed into each other. But now it's actually profitable.

How do you make a profit off of it?

Shows. I'm really kicking myself because I don't have a website, but I've sold pieces off off Facebook. I've posted pieces and then within thirty minutes someone will contact me and want to buy it.

Why do you think people are so interested in baseball, as a subject matter?

Baseball in itself, to me, is the greatest metaphor for life there is. There's no emotion you can experience in life that you can't experience on a baseball field. I've been to weddings on a baseball field, and a funeral on a baseball field and everything in-between. I try to do not so much a portrait of a player, but to tell a story along with the art -- people I can identify with, or the emotion of winning a big game. It's easy to identify with the emotion of baseball.

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"Von Miller," marker illustration.
What's a challenge people might not know about in creating baseball art?

The biggest thing is licensing fees. If I wanted to take a piece and go mass produce it, I'm not allowed to. I am allowed to do one-of-a-kind, personal use, sell the original pieces. But to do prints, the pie gets divided so many ways -- I haven't chosen to cross that road yet, because it is so expensive. I have done prints of players before, but I think the players are entitled to those images, so I will go to public and private signings and pay the player to sign the original and some prints. Any sport is really picky about the use of logos and the use of images.

It's really nice when you get the baseball people behind you. I did a piece for Root Sports last year where I drew a Todd Helton image for a score card and the MLB network has shown it several times on their show "Intentional Talk" with Kevin Millar. So I guess if the MLB is using it, I guess it's okay.

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Von Miller, signing original piece
How do the players react to your pieces?

That part's really cool. Some of them are like, "Oh, that's nice." But some of them get really excited. I did a recent football piece of Von Miller, who plays with the Broncos -- and as soon as he saw the image, which was a picture of him sacking Mark Sanchez, I was told that he took a photograph of it and Tweeted it to Mark Sanchez. And since then, his agent has ordered copies of it. So when it's appreciated like that, it makes me feel really good.

What types of reactions do you get to your work?

It's funny -- a lot of galleries don't consider what I do art, because they call it "memorabilia." I don't understand why, because I go through the same process any artist would go through to create work. Just because it's sports, I understand that it might not be their taste, but still, the effort is there and the research is there, just like any other piece of art.

I've had some galleries tell me I will never be in their galleries because it's sports art. And I have had other artists tell me I do not create art. I've never heard a reason I understood, so I don't really know why they believe that. But, from the general public, I have had great reaction. It's really a only a few galleries and artists.

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"Troy Tulowitzki," 2011 Denver Chalk Art Festival; Banister and daughter, Jessica Yancey.
Predictions for the upcoming Rockies season? Are you excited?

I'm super-excited. I have to wonder about the pitching a little bit -- it's suspect. Hopefully we'll get De La Rosa back mid-year and he'll add a lot to it. They've gone from the youthful team of the past to a more experienced club house, and with the leadership who can help out the young guys, like Tulowitzki, Fowler and Gonzales. I'm excited. I'm the eternal optimist. I'll always root for them.

To contact Banister, visit his Facebook page.

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