An unusual friendship has resulted in some artwork with a home field advantage. Chicago Cubs outfielder Ian Happ commissioned an artist to capture the game from a player’s perspective. But the artist, an Englishman, didn’t know much about baseball. So Happ introduced his new friend to his workplace.
“I had this experience where I’d bring people down on the field that had been to 10, 20, 100 games at Wrigley,” Happ said, “and they’d get on the field and look back up and have this experience or this moment of awe, and to be able to capture that and some of the different perspectives that we get of Wrigley Field as players that the fans don’t get.”
The artist he hired, Patrick Vale, made cityscapes and portraits of fans he’s met. Vale was born in Bristol, England, and lives in Brooklyn.
“I went to a Mets game, and I’m always drawing wherever I go,” Vale said. “I did a little sketch in my sketchbook, and I think you (Happ) saw that and said, ‘Hang on a minute. We need to get you out to Wrigley.’”
Vale met Happ through a mutual friend. Vale understood cricket, but not baseball.
“I haven’t got the foggiest, or I didn’t,” Vale said. “I’m learning. I mean, it’s a field. I think to start with I’d call it a pitch, and Ian would pick me up on all of those little things.”
Their five-year partnership resulted in a show at Chicago’s Gallery Victor called “See What I See.”
“We love artwork that has a story behind it,” said Gallery Victor’s Victor Armendariz. “This kind of collaboration has not been seen before, where you have a baseball player collaborating with a well-known artist and illustrator in a way that depicts the sport of baseball and Chicago in a new and fresh way.”
Happ hit a pair of home runs at the first Cubs game in London. But to this product of western Pennsylvania, there’s no place like his adopted home and a ballpark steeped in history that strikes him in different ways.
“One of the most powerful ways is the people that have played here before us, you know — Ernie Banks, Ron Santos, Babe Ruth called a shot here. … To conceptualize that and to have the opportunity to continue that, to wear the Cubs uniform, is very special as a player, and then the energy that you get from the fan base. They’re always here. They’re always rooting for you and they’re such a positive fan base, which is so impressive.”
Happ grew up appreciating art. He played the violin as a child, and his brother made pottery. Happ is glad to share Wrigley with his friend — but the artist has yet to take batting practice.
And while neither the ball player nor the artist is from Chicago, each has found the city welcoming.
“It’s just been wonderful,” Vale said. “I’m starting to explore the city myself now through the lens of baseball and people that I meet and interview with the Cubs. I feel like I’m a bit of a detective of sorts, trying to learn those stories about why people love this club so much, and the city.”
“Just to be able to give the people that watch us and cheer for us everyday kind of a look into how it is for us,” Happ said. “… We’re excited to share it with everybody. It’s been a long time coming.”
The art show is at Gallery Victor in River North through Aug. 26. Vale is in residence at the gallery through July.