A conversation with painter Opie Otterstad

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (Jan. 17, 2014) — Opie Otterstad isn’t someone I’ve crossed paths with in press boxes, clubhouses or stadiums, but his interest in merging sports and sports personalities into art work greatly intrigues me.

The distinguished painter has made a living combining his passion for sports and his artistic talent. The Austin, Texas-based artist has, in his own words, “worked for over 250 professional athletes and organizations.” Among the high-profile athletes: MLB stars Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera.

For the past 12 years, he’s also produced the official painting for the World Series champion and concocted Los Angeles Lakers’ NBA championship art work.

What’s more, Otterstad worked as the official painter and program cover artist for the NCAA’s 75th anniversary of March Madness, which was celebrated last year. This was an epic project.

It was “the product of eight months of extensive planning, and negotiating between the NABC, Fishbait Marketing, NCAA, Limelight Agency and Opie Otterstad,” a press release stated.

The project was described this way in the press release: “Opie will paint a daunting seventy-five, story-telling portraits. After all have been completed, they will be assembled as one single artistic installation, spanning a staggering thirty feet in length (nearly the width of a basketball court). Once shown at the 75th Final Four Celebration in Georgia, it will go on to become a fixture at the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City.

“Each of the paintings will represent a NCAA Men’s Basketball championship year, and will be a portrait of that team’s coach. To make each painting its own special piece, Opie has begun the very involved process of meeting with each of the coaches individually to learn about them and their memories of the games they won. In the cases of coaches who have since past, he will be meeting with those that were close to them and that part of history.”

Indeed, the 75th-anniversary was an ambitious undertaking.

“This project will mean a schedule of almost two paintings a weeks for close to a year,” Limelight’s press release stated. “A year filled with traveling around the country visiting coaches, unveiling works at championship colleges, presenting at the 75th Final Four, and eventually unveiling at the Hall of fame.”

Otterstad is also the official artist for the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame. One of his most ambitious past projects was, as the Austin American-Statesman reported, a “17-panel, confetti-colored montage of the University of Texas Longhorns’ football victory over the University of Southern California, leans against a wall in the hallway of his Round Rock home. It will hang permanently in Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletics Center at Royal-Memorial Stadium.”

Former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford have collected his art, according to the Austin American-Statesman, which featured a story by Pamela LeBlanc that began this way:

“Opie Otterstad got drilled in the head with a baseball when he was a kid, instilling – at the time, a healthy fear of a fast-moving pitch.

“That hit, though, didn’t dissuade him from a career in sports, even if he never wore a professional uniform or slugged his way to fame and fortune. Instead, he picked up a palette knife and paints and set to work freezing the moments that make sports fans salivate.”

The American Sport Art Museum, located in Daphne, Alabama, describes him this way on its website:

“If a national election were held in America for the title of “Sport Art’s Troubadour,” Opie Otterstad surely would be the winning candidate. A prolific painter of historic athletic events, Opie, as he signs his artworks, takes to the road for about three-quarters of his working year to visit patrons, models, and fellow artists. The trips help him keep up-to-date on their lives and give him the opportunity to swap business information and tall tales with the famous sports figures who have become his friends.”

He was named the United State Sports Academy’s 2006 Sport Artist of the Year. (Past honorees have included the late LeRoy Neiman, Daniel You and Hans Enri.)

* * *

In a recent email interview, Otterstad, who was born in 1970, provided compelling insight about his work, artistic influences and various opinions that shed light on how he combines all these things.

Can you tell me who are your greater artistic influences over the years who have helped shape your painting style? Or is what you do shaped more by trial and error, in your view?

Artistic influences have come in many places for me. My high school art teacher, Tracye Wear, and my mentor at St. Olaf College, Wendell Arneson, both played major roles in leading me out of trying to reproduce photos and into being an artist. Being an student of art history, I claim many bits of inspiration from the pages of what has come before me – Lucian Freud, Rembrandt, Winslow Homer, (Jean-Michael) Basquiat, and Damien Hirst have all found a place into the way I approach my own work. I love the growing and learning aspect of art … a blank canvas is literally “tabula rasa” and everyday a new world awaits.

As for inspiration that comes in many forms as well. I love to paint and capture people – their emotions and the thoughts written on their face, a complete exploration of a person in a moment in time. Athletics gives us a very public display of range of unbridled emotion, the human form at its fittest, and the color and pageantry of a great event. My favorite subjects to paint are always people with whom I have a personal relationship…my most treasured works are ones I’ve given away.

Does watching athletes in person and on the TV help you develop your style of them that will transform them to canvas, such as the little quirks or mannerisms that a certain individual has? Are photographs as useful as broadcast images, or perhaps useful in a different way?

When you paint anything historically related, the subject of photos and images comes up. My work draws from many sources, but I would never want someone to look at one of my works and exclaim, “Oh! I love that photograph!” I strive to say something new in every piece: my vision … not just copying a photo. As much time goes into the composition on the computer as it goes into painting. Quite often when you’re looking at the hands of Kobe Bryant or Babe Ruth in one of my paintings, you’re actually seeing my own.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received regarding your work as a painter? (Can you recall how it was said and how it affected you at the time and how it may have grown as a sign of wisdom for you as time marched on?)

There are a number of nuggets of wisdom that have shaped me over the years, mostly from my early teachers mentioned earlier. “Let me know when the other 50 percent kicks in.” “You’re not as good as you think you are.” “If you’re going to be an artist, then it is your whole life. It colors everything you do and everything you say – you need to decide if that is what you are going to be right now. Otherwise, don’t waste my time or yours.” All of this may sound a little harsh, I suppose, but it was what I needed to hear at the time. It got me out of being a child that is praised too much for the ability to draw and into being an artist. It is not what I do; it is everything that I am.

*Can you provide a rundown of your typical “week in the day, and week in the life” as you work and relax and handle everyday responsibilities, including art projects, and activities? And to pinpoint part of what I mean: About how many hours a day/week do you spend working on painting?

The typical week of an artist is anything but typical, but it ALWAYS centers around work. With over 2000 works in the past 20 years, my palette knife and plate are never far away. The art of painting on the road, in hotels, on car rides, and in planes has become an efficient machine. I enjoy painting in different locations and different cities. If I get time to paint plain air or with a live model, it’s like dessert. I am often teased by my peers for not having any fun and being a workaholic, but honestly, if this wasn’t my living, it would be my only hobby. The act of creation is what inspires and motivates me every day.

In various newspaper articles I’ve read about your career, the writers mentioned that you have frequently hung around Major League Baseball clubhouses for research. What, in particular, is helpful about seeing the ballplayers in their everyday element to giving you a better grasp of who they are as people?

To answer why being around clubhouses and concert venues is invaluable to my work is really easy. While I am not an active participant in making the story, I am very useful at telling it. In my own small way I am a part of it. Most of my original friends in baseball are now either coaches or retired, and I remain around. There is a continuity within organizations that ties me to them. So as each season begins, there are always old friends and new introductions. The better an artist knows their subject, the more information I have to capture not only what they’ve done, but who they are.

Switching to music for a moment … how is capturing the charisma and uniqueness of a musician similar to and different than doing so for an athlete in a painting?

Musicians and people in the arts have many of the same characteristics that I enjoy capturing as people in athletics. The emotion, the color, and the show is all part of expression in the arts. Watching, as a musician pours out the experiences of their life in front of an audience desperate to hear those sounds and stories, is captivating.

Who do you consider the greatest living painter? Why?

The greatest living painter I have ever met is a gentleman named Philip Trussell (here’s his website: http://www.philiptrussell.com/) in Austin, TX. He is the closest person to Van Gogh who I will meet in my lifetime. Philip lives a simple life, that he has built over many years, dedicated to the singular pursuit of his work. He is unassuming and reflects a quiet genius and intellect that makes me wish I was less successful and more dedicated to an unapologetic artistic life.

Listening to him speak is a living lesson on how to think about art and integrate it with a truly intellectual mind. Often in group conversations he will go on descriptive tangents based on his work, and as others in the conversation look to me to explain, the perplexed look on my face remains unchanged, and I shrug my shoulders.

Who are 3-4 painters of the past you’d rank as the best of their lifetimes?

Ranking the best painters from the past would only be reduced to my opinion. I love visiting museums and galleries to see what others are doing. When I am in New York, I visit “Madame X” by Sargent at the Met. It’s a personal tradition. I love it and have painted people looking at it several times. I love different artists for different reasons. For example, I really like Cy Twombly because I really don’t like his work. It challenges me. It forces me to open the scope of my appreciation wider than I am comfortable, and from that can come personal growth in my own work.

Here’s the link to Otterstad’s website: http://www.opieart.com/main.html

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Super Bowl XXXVIII game report

One of my all-time favorite assignments.

Headline: Giants cap improbable run with Super Bowl win

By Ed Odeven/The Japan Times

GLENDALE, Ariz.(Feb. 5, 2008) — There’s no perfect Super Bowl champion in 2008. Instead, there’s a champion that took a page out of the previously unbeaten New England Patriots’ book of achievements.

The New York Giants authored the final chapter to their improbable Super Bowl XLII title this way:

They did it the Patriots’ way.

The Giants staged a late-game comeback, winning it on Plaxico Burress’ 13-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning with 35 seconds remaining on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

New York’s 17-14 victory is precisely the same three-point margin that gave New England three championships in four seasons Super Bowl XXXVI (20-17 over the St. Louis Rams), Super Bowl XXXVIII (32-29, over the Carolina Panthers) and Super Bowl XXXIX (24-21 over the Philadelphia Eagles). And in each of those three Tom Brady-led title games, the Patriots won the championship in dramatic fashion in the fourth quarter.

Now it was New York’s turn.

The Giants’ 11th straight road win elevated them to new heights as they became the only team to hand Bill Belichick’s mighty Patriots a defeat this season.

“That was a record in the National Football League, to win 11 straight road games,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.

“But more than that, it’s the way in which we went about our work. The road signified for us, the coming together of team… So we rode that emotion all the way through.”

Belichick was asked if this was the most disappointing loss of his career.

“I don’t rank them. It’s disappointing,” he blurted out.

The game featured only one touchdown through three quarters Laurence Maroney’s 1-yard TD plunge in the second quarter. That score put the Patriots ahead 7-3 with 14:57 to play before intermission.

New York had taken a 3-0 lead on Lawrence Tynes’ 32-yard field goal to cap a 16-play, game-opening drive, in which Manning demonstrated he was not intimidated by the championship-tested New England defense.

How’s this for baptism under fire? Manning, the game MVP, completed three third-down passes to keep the drive alive.

In the fourth quarter, the resilient Giants retook the lead.

With 14:52 to play, Manning and Co. took over at their own 20-yard line. He opened the drive with a 35-yard pass play to tight end Kevin Boss. Six plays later, Manning hit receiver David Tyree with a picture-perfect pass, a 5-yard bullet over the middle.

It was Tyree’s first touchdown of the season.

“He just made the catch of his life,” Fox TV play-by-play man Joe Buck said seconds later.

The teams traded punts on the next two drives.

Then Brady went back to work, doing what he does best. He engineered another vintage fourth-quarter comeback, driving the Patriots 80 yards in 12 plays. He hooked up with Wes Welker (11 catches, 103 yards) for receptions of five, 13 and 10 yards during the possession.

In fitting fashion, New England retook the lead, 14-10, on Brady’s 6-yard TD strike to Randy Moss with 2:42 left in the game. Moss beat cornerback Corey Webster on a well-placed throw to the right corner of the end zone.

“It was just a simple fade,” Moss said. “It was a crucial situation in the game. It was late in the game and I really thought that play really gave us the momentum, to take us up.”

It did, but it was a short-lived momentum.

The Giants resumed their quest for a title with 2:42 to play in the game and the ball at their own 17.

Operating out of the shotgun, Manning, who was 19-for-34 for 255 yards and one interception, quickly moved the chains, getting an 11-yard pickup on a pass to Amani Toomer.

Facing third-and-10 after the 2-minute warning, the Manning-Toomer connection produced another long gain: nine yards. On fourth-and-1 from the 37, Brandon Jacobs, who runs like a tenacious bull, barreled his way forward for a 2-yard pickup.

On third-and-5 at the Giants 44 with 1:15 remaining, Manning darted out of the pocket to avoid a sack, a superb, jaw-dropping job of sidestepping away from a sure loss.

In doing so, he gave himself time to connect with Tyree for a 32-yard pass over the middle.

“The whole play by Eli to avoid that sack was the play of the year, outstanding, amazing,” Boss declared.

But the proud Patriots, seeking their first title in three years, had some fight left in them.

Linebacker Adalius Thomas dropped Manning for a 1-yard loss on the next play. And Manning faced tight pass defense on the next down and threw an incompletion, setting up third-and-11 at the 25 with 45 ticks on the clock.

Manning was ready for the challenge.

He delivered an 11-yard pass to rookie Steve Smith to keep this drama-drenched fourth quarter beating to the same pulsating rhythm.

Manning cemented his legacy in the NFL annals on the next play.

Under all-out duress he made the game-winning pass to Burress, a great lob that the outspoken receiver hauled in with 35 seconds to go.

Brady, who was harassed all night by the relentless Giants defensive front seven, ran out of magic.

He threw an incomplete pass. Jay Alford sacked him. Then he tossed a pair of long, air-it-out passes to the streaking Moss, who faced double- and triple-coverage.

Moments later, the Giants celebrated the franchise’s third Super Bowl title, a direct result of holding the Patriots’ running game to 45 total yards.

“Every team is beatable, you never know,” Coughlin said. “The right moment, the right time, every team is beatable. That’s why it’s so difficult and you have to guard against so many different things, emotions, etc.”

“There’s no taking anything away from them now,” he added, praising his players for a super finish to their season. Looking back at the way fourth-year pro Manning played on the grand stage, Coughlin said: “He played super. He did the things in the second half (and) fourth quarter that you have to do to win the Super Bowl. He brought us down the field, he got the ball in the end zone twice, you’d have to throw the script away.

“We had three timeouts, we’re sitting there in the green zone with no timeouts. So you know you’ve got to make a play and you’ve got to make a play to the end zone. So he played very, very well and very cool, very calm.”

The Patriots had a different perspective afterward.

“It’s a game we couldn’t finish,” Brady lamented. “It’s tough to take. … We had our chances. We knew we were one step away.”

Basketball – Sandra Viksryte feature flashback

This article, published in January 2006 in the Arizona Daily Sun, takes a look at Sandra Viksryte’s journey from Lithuania to Arizona and her collegiate basketball career.

Headline: WELL WORTH THE WAIT

January 05, 2006

By Ed Odeven

Good things come to those who wait,” Bob Marley reminds us in one of his songs. Maybe so, but no one ever said being patient was easy. It tests our character time and again. NAU senior forward Sandra Viksryte faced a patience-testing ordeal when she decided to transfer from Oklahoma State to the mountain campus last December. By doing so, she had to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules and lost a full season of eligibility.

“It was really hard,” Viksryte said after Wednesday’s practice at the Skydome, two days before the 8-5 Lumberjacks’ home game against Texas-Pan American. “Even your practicing is not the same when you cannot play.”

Viksryte, a 6-foot-1 forward from Lithuania, finally got the chance to don a Lumberjack uniform in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Dec. 19.

In that first game, “I was feeling that I was getting cold, hot, my face colors (were) changing,” she said. “I was just so nervous because I didn’t play for a year. It seems like, ‘OK, I’m 23 years old and I have a little bit of experience but you just sit for one year and it’s really hard to watch your team play.’

“You just do it during practice and try to work hard to help them. During the game, you cannot do anything.”

First-game jitters aside, it was still an impressive debut.

Viksryte scored 16 points off the bench and sealed NAU’s 84-83 win by hitting two free throws with 0.4 seconds left in overtime.

After the game, she called her parents in Lithuania and told them about the dramatic triumph.

“My mom started crying,” Viksryte remembered.

In the team’s final two games of the tourney, Viksryte had 11 and 10 points against South Florida and Puerto Rico-Mayaguez, respectively.

She made her first start against Nevada Dec. 28 and had seven points and six rebounds, two assists and one block in a 66-58 NAU victory. She also missed 10 of 12 shots from the field, a sign that she’s still working on getting back to top form.

But Viksryte follow that performance with a season-high 18 points on New Year’s Eve in a 14-point loss at Nebraska.

“It’s been over a year since she actually played competitively,” Lumberjacks coach Laurie Kelly said, “and so with that you’ve just got to get back into that basketball sense — not getting into foul trouble, defensively knowing where to be in the right place.”

Senior Nicky Eason, who sat out a the 2003-04 season after transferring from the University of Denver, added: “She had quite a bit of a layoff. I personally know how that is. … Sometimes it just takes a while to get back in the groove, but she’s trying and I think she’s doing a good job. She will get better as the season goes on.”

QUICK LEARNER

Viksryte began playing basketball as a 13-year-old in her hometown of Siauliai, Lithuania, the Eastern European nation’s third-largest city. A year later, she had risen to the top of her age group and began playing for the national team.

She played for the Lithuanian Junior National Team that placed second at the 1998 World Championships. She also played for the Lithuanian squad that was eighth at the 2000 World Championships.

After graduating from high school, Viksryte attended Weatherford (Texas) Junior College and helped the school make it to the 2003-04 NJCAA National Tournament. She averaged 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds during league play, helping the Coyotes win the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference crown and Region V title.

While at nationals, Kelly first got to watch Viksryte play. And she liked what she saw.

“She plays very European, I guess you would say,” Kelly said. “And some people say what does that mean? A lot of European players tend to be more finesse players. You watch Sandra and she does a lot of spin and scoop and reverse shots and more acrobatic shots than maybe you’d see typically in most games in the United States.”

Viksryte took official recruiting visits to Oklahoma State, Penn State and NAU.

“It’s funny when you look at those three schools and one kind of doesn’t fit in as much,” Kelly said with a smile.

FROM OKLAHOMA TO FLAGSTAFF

NAU wanted to sign Viksryte to a scholarship after her junior-college days were completed.

It happened, but not the way Kelly had hoped.

“We felt really strongly about the fact that we thought we had a possibility of getting her. But when push came to shove, I think she was influenced a little bit by outside sources to go to Oklahoma State,” Kelly said.

Viksryte admitted as much to Kelly in a phone conversation in 2004.

“She called me two days before schools started at Oklahoma State and said, ‘Coach, I don’t want to go here,'” Kelly recalled Tuesday. “At that point, she had never signed a (national letter of intent), she signed a financial aid agreement, so she could be recruited up until the first day of school.

“When you are an international student, you run into, obviously, issues with visas and transferring to (another) school. I just didn’t feel like two days was enough to get her to walk away from Oklahoma State, so I told her, ‘Best of luck, but there’s not a lot we can do.'”

After the first semester of the 2004-05 season, Viksryte called Kelly and said she’d obtained a release to leave OSU.

Good timing.

NAU had a scholarship available.

“We weighed the pros and cons (of signing her) and I knew Sandra could be key for us, and we took that chance and brought her here,” Kelly said.

“I’ve never been disappointed. I’ve always been very excited to have her. … In the end, she ended up here. We’re excited to have her for conference play and feel like she could be a big asset at our run for a conference championship.”

In retrospect, Viksryte admitted she’s happy she came to Flagstaff.

“I like it here much more,” Viksryte said. “I’m happier here because I really like the coaches and I love my teammates.”

The feeling is mutual.

“She works hard and she’s lots of fun,” NAU junior center Alyssa Wahl said. “We always joke around about her English”

What jokes?

(Assistant) coach Tony (Perotti) always calls her Yoda because she phrases her sentences like him.”

BIG FRONTCOURT

In recent games, NAU has employed a tall frontline, consisting of three 6-footers — Viksryte, the 6-1 Megan Porter and the 6-2 Wahl. This combination enables NAU to put Porter and Wahl on the perimeter, which draws post defenders outside, and leaves Viksryte in the paint.

“Sandra has great post moves and can draw fouls pretty easily,” said Wahl, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder last year.

“With her it gives us a lot more dimension. It should be a great advantage for us.”

Kelly agreed.

“She’s not a perimeter threat like the two of them,” the coach said. “But she is dynamite one-on-one in the paint against just about anybody I think, big or small. So she brings us an element to the team that I just don’t think we had before.”

Such as?

“It’s just different kind of post moves,” Kelly said of Viksryte. “You’re not going to see Alyssa Wahl spinning around, stepping through and ball-faking and pass-faking for shots. She’s very agile. She runs the floor very, very well.”

In addition, Viksryte’s experience in international competition and her age, 23 (she turns 24 on Jan. 20), are beneficial to the team’s younger players.

“She’s a very mature player,” Kelly said. “She wants to win. (She’s) very competitive.”

LOOKING AHEAD

After her playing days at NAU are over, Viksryte, a business economics major, hopes to begin a career in real estate in the United States.

But first things first.

Viksryte said her personal goal is to win the Big Sky’s Newcomer of the Year award this season, an accolade Eason shared with Sacramento State’s Kim Sheehy last season. As far as team goals, Viksryte has big aspirations: to win the Big Sky tourney and earn the school’s first-ever NCAA Women’s Tournament berth.

“Now I’m a senior, this is my last year, so I want to go to nationals,” Viksryte said. “I want to help the team to nationals.”

And that would make the wait well worth it, wouldn’t you say?