Like any good journalist, the first step I take before conducting an interview is compile some background research on my subject and get myself familiar with who they are and what they’ve accomplished prior to asking them any questions. When I was told that I had the opportunity to interview Adam Port, I figured it would be wise to take a peek at his portfolio and see what some of his work looked like before proceeding any further with my article. At first glance, I was extremely impressed with Adam’s art and I said to myself “Damn, this guy sure knows how to use a camera – these are some stunning photographs of some of the best athletes and entertainers of my generation.” It was not until I read Port’s bio that I realized that what I was looking at were not photos at all, they were painstakingly realistic paintings of subjects that were depicted so accurately that it left little wonder as to why my eyes deceived me in the first place.
Whether you are captivated by the painting of the 2009 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Inductees, a depiction of New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree’s miraculous catch in Super Bowl XLII, or exclusive portraits of Elvis Presley – several common threads tie together all of Adam Port’s work: originality, meticulous attention to detail, imagination, unparalleled style, and perfect arrangement. The skillful hand and eye of Port are amazingly self-taught qualities that he refined throughout his childhood in Hewlett, NY and in his years as a Fine Art major at Syracuse University.
Once I shook off the initial shock that Adam’s work is in fact done by his own hand and not by the lens of a camera, I had the pleasure of sitting down with him to discuss his career, his paintings, and his enthusiasm for sports.
Adam, I would imagine that reaching the level of artistic ability that you are currently at was not something that happened overnight. At what age did you first begin drawing?
I don’t really remember the actual age that I began to draw, although I’ve been told that I have been drawing ever since I could hold a pencil. I do however recall when I first started taking an interest in art. I was 12 or 13 years old and I remember looking forward to going to art class. My art teacher used to create all of these airbrushed paintings that he would hang up on the walls and I was fascinated. They were simplistic paintings, full of geometric shapes and neon colors, but there was something about it that sparked my interest. I think that was the first time I was introduced to an airbrush. After that, there was a short period of time, probably a couple of years that I was really into mechanical drawing, but that was short-lived.
What was your first big break as a young artist and how did this propel your career?
While I was attending Syracuse University, a good friend of mine took one of my school projects (a painting of Michael Jordan) to the Garden for a Knicks/Bulls game. He had seats right behind the visitor’s bench. We were hoping that Jordan would see the painting and sign it. Of course that didn’t happen, but the painting caught the attention of one of the sideline photographers. He was impressed enough to give my friend his card, which led to a meeting with the NBA and ultimately I was given a license agreement which allowed me to sell my basketball paintings. Having this agreement really propelled my career because it allowed me to get involved with events like the NBA All-Star Weekend where I was able to network with a lot of athletes and entertainers. That and having my paintings in the NBA Store in Manhattan provided great exposure.
Who are your major influences and did any one particular painting inspire you to pursue a career in art?
I can’t say that one particular painting inspired me, but the artist that first inspired me was Chuck Close. I remember being in art class in high school and we were introduced to different artists with different styles. One of the styles of painting was photorealism and the representing artist was Chuck Close. I was absolutely shocked. I couldn’t believe that his paintings were so realistic. From that moment on I wanted to paint like him. Later on in college while studying illustration I was exposed to artists like Norman Rockwell and J.C. Leyendecker. Those guys were absolute masters of their craft. It doesn’t get much better than them. I then stumbled upon an artist by the name of Drew Struzan. Drew is an illustrator who has created some of the greatest movie posters ever such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Back to the Future. After researching him and understanding how he approached his paintings, I started to really develop my technique. Out of all these artists, I would have to say that Drew Struzan has influenced me the most.
Judging by the subjects in your paintings, you are a sports junkie. Who are some of your favorite athletes and what teams do you follow?
I was a huge Mets fan growing up and I loved Darryl Strawberry. Being that he and I are both lefties, who played the outfield and the fact that my lucky number is 18, I didn’t really have much of a choice! I have so many memories from 1986, the year that they won the World Series. Although I was only 8, I probably watched more games that year than any other. There was something special about that team.
Although I didn’t play tennis competitively, I have always watched a lot of tennis and I was always an Andre Agassi fan. Part of that was probably due to great marketing by companies like Nike and Cannon, but the other part was his unpredictability and his killer return of serve. He also happens to be a classy guy, who is extremely charitable. I hope to work with him one day.
And then there was Michael Jordan. As soon as I “discovered” basketball, I became obsessed with MJ. Again, the genius marketing by Nike might have had something to do with this, but he was undoubtedly the best. What I first love about Jordan was his creativity. The things he was able to do in the air, including his dunks were insane. Once I got older and started to really learn how to play basketball, I was captivated by Jordan’s competitiveness and drive. His desire to win was truly inspiring.
Growing up a Chicago Bulls fan in New York was interesting to say the least. I remember the battles that the Bulls and the Knicks had in the playoffs during the 90’s. It was tough going to school the day after a Bulls loss. Fortunately for me, the Bulls would always win the series, so I always had the last laugh.
What was the most difficult painting that you have done and what made it such a challenge to complete?
Portraits are always challenging because it’s crucial to make sure you capture the likeness of the subjects in a painting. That being said, deadlines are what really make it difficult for me, especially when you have multiple people in a painting. So, I would have to say that the most challenging painting would have to be the Football Hall of Fame painting I recently completed. Before that project, the most people I had in one painting was 20 and I had 3 months to complete it. This time around I had only 4 weeks to complete a painting with 33 people. Having to budget my time proved to very difficult, but somehow I got it done. 2 months later and I’m still trying to catch up on my sleep.
Your painting of inductees David Robinson, John Stockton, Jerry Sloan, C. Vivian Stringer, and of course Michael Jordan was unveiled at last year’s Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement. Was there any point during that night where you were in awe that you were chosen to design something so special for such elite company?
I think the more appropriate question would be: Was there any point that I wasn’t in awe?
Throughout my career I’ve been very fortunate to be invited to many events where there were a lot of athletes and celebrities, but the Hall of Fame Enshrinement was on another level. I was surrounded by some of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game. Everywhere I looked, there was another Hall of Famer or future Hall of Famer. I don’t usually get star struck, but when you see MJ, Rodman, Barkley, Magic walk by you one after the other, it’s pretty amazing. And then to think that I was chosen to present my artwork to the class of ‘09. That was a special weekend … AND I got to meet Michael Jordan!
You have done work with both the NBA and NFL and attended countless fundraisers with celebrity guests. Fill us in on your most memorable experience and why this particular event was so special.
I’ve had many memorable moments, but here are a few that stand out in my mind:
In 2002, I was commissioned to create a painting for Ray Lewis and auction off a print at his inaugural charity event. Being that it was his first charity event, it was a small intimate event, so I was able to meet a lot of athletes and do some networking. Ray was so happy with the painting that he insisted on incorporating my print in the live auction. I couldn’t believe what happened next. Two people got into a bidding war and my print ended up going for $12,000. I think it was at that moment that I knew I was in the right business.
The next year I was asked to create another painting for his second annual charity event.
Later that evening Ray invited me to his house for his huge birthday bash. When I arrived at his house Ray brought me into his living room to show me that both of my paintings were hung up on his wall.
Another memorable experience was the time I flew down to Atlanta to do a signing with Michael Vick. I had created a painting of him along with a limited edition that he was scheduled to sign. The morning of the signing I went to his house but the security at the gate couldn’t get a hold of him. One of the guys I was with knew Dominique Wilkins so we left and drove over to his home. Dominique invited us in and after a tour of his home, we sat in his living room and talked about basketball for hours. It’s an amazing experience to get to talk to an NBA Legend and hear about the game from his perspective. He had some remarkable stories. Great guy. Later that day, we finally got a hold of Vick and he signed the prints.
A few months later was the 2005 NBA All-Star weekend in Denver. I was able to meet and talk to a lot of the players including Shaq. Man is he big! I was also lucky enough to be invited to the All-Star Game. That in itself was a great experience, but after the game I met up with Dominique and we went out to a club where I got to chat with Carmelo Anthony and Lil Jon.
Do many of your subjects purchase their own portraits? If you don’t mind me asking, how much do you typically charge for a painting of an athlete or entertainer?
Yes, generally the subjects of my paintings purchase their own portrait. Sometimes they purchase a painting that I have previously created, but most of the time they commission me to create something new. I also get requests to paint someone other than themselves.
No, I don’t mind if you ask, but if I tell you, I’ll have to kill you. Just kidding. My prices vary depending on the size and the complexity of the panting. My artwork can go anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000. The average price of my paintings are probably about $15,000-$20,000.
You were recently featured in ESPN The Magazine, one of the most widely distributed sports publications in the nation, has this publicity opened up more opportunities for you as far as work requests and invitations to paint for major events and individuals?
Being in ESPN The Magazine was really great. I honestly didn’t realize how large its distribution was. Although it just recently hit the shelves, I have already been contacted with requests. One of the things that was great about it was that it mentioned my website and as a result I have seen a huge spike in traffic.
Looking ahead, what are your immediate goals for your career and what type of progress can you forecast for Adam Port in 2010?
My immediate goal for my career is to keep expanding my brand while continuing to find exciting companies to work with. I really love working with athletes and their charities, so that is something I will continue to do as well. Other than the few projects I’m working on now, I don’t really know what lies ahead for 2010. But I think that’s what so exciting about what I do. I don’t always know what’s around the corner, but what I do know that it will be something exciting and challenging. And that’s what I love about being an artist!
Since your career has been such an overwhelming success, we’d love for you to leave us with some uplifting final words. What is the best piece of advice you can impart upon college-aged artists looking to develop their own style and carve out a role in the design world?
The only advice that I can give would be to try and absorb as much information as you possibly can. Knowing and understanding the history of art will not only inspire you, but it will help you figure out what it is that you are passionate about. Once you have that figured out, everything else will fall into place. In regard to developing a style, my advice would be to try as many different techniques as possible and then choose the style you enjoy the most.
For more on Adam Port, including a step-by-step breakdown of his paintings from start to finish and complete look at his portfolio, check out adamport.com.