The best part of being a journalist is meeting alluring people. In the past 10 years I’ve spoken to a spectrum of curious voices, some you’ve heard of and others you haven’t, but it doesn’t make any those people any less important or engaging to me. These encounters have been richly rewarding as I have been able to learn new things, understand processes and have topics explained in a deeper way that I wouldn’t otherwise have known.
The most common questions I ask myself when thinking about a potential story is “how” or “why” as in how does this work, or why does this happen. How does Hawthorn keep finding ways to stay winning? Why do we think a night Grand Final will work? Why are we playing games of football in Asia? When big questions arise like these, I tend to reach out to experts or well-versed authorities to get the best information rather than offer quick, knee-jerk musings. For me, the answers need to be definite, not a passing thought.
Jim Pavlidis has been crafting abstract portraits that tell stories for The Age for almost 30 years. He started his job before the age of computers. Since the Women’s football season started, he’s been producing works of art in a weekly column It’s Been A Big Week In Art, where he takes an original piece of work and re-creates it in his own style, using footballers as the subject. You’ve probably seen the Moana Hope portrait by now. He’s a man that is wildly poignant about his work and the 2016 Western Bulldogs flag is one of his best memories about being a Doggies fan. I spoke with Pavlidis over the phone about how – and why – he got started in profiling footballers in his artwork and column. You can see his work here.
“At its most basic, it’s the folksy element of footy that I really love; the characters, and the fact that they are just young kids really.” – Jim Pavlidis
I was wondering if you could start by talking a little bit, if you can, about how you came to this point in your career?
I was called up to work for the Age when I was 23 years old, as a fill in for three weeks and that was 30 years ago. I spent some time overseas, but, I’ve been there ever since. I was hired on as a graphic artist and it’s been an organic evolution. Opportunities revealed themselves along the way. People go away on holidays and things just build from there. When I started at The Age it was before computers were there and that’s a whole other way of thinking. The great thing with computers now, I spend much of my time on the idea because I can execute technically in a critical time and make little adjustments working in Photoshop, the changes can be easily made.
How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it before?
It’s essentially symbolic. I look for a single image that sums up something, and try to make the imagery as simple as possible and condensed. I use a lot of metaphors and symbols. But, I try and produce singular images that convey an idea with highly detailed, characters and textured figures.
What compelled you to create football as art?
I do love my footy. Six years ago, I kept seeing possibilities in famous works of art. Sport seems to be incredibly super charged and super hyped. Everything is talked up. At its basic, it’s the folksy element of footy that I really love; the characters, and the fact that they are just young kids really. They’re great sportsmen, but they are not great intellectuals or anything like that. Nor should they be as young men. I come at it in way of bringing out the humanity, that’s what I always feel, it’s the humanity of it all. Sometimes you read the footy or see it on T.V. it’s in their (media) interest to really pump it up. But that’s not what it’s about for me.
What’s the one football image you’re most proud of?
Last year in the finals, the Bulldogs, who happen to be my team, were in the Grand Final for the first time in 55 years playing Sydney. The day after the Grand Final the Age does a poster format for one of my Big Week in Art columns. Being a large format paper, it takes a few days to do to make sure they can justify the space. We couldn’t wait for the results of the game so we had to do two posters – one for Sydney and one for the Bulldogs. It was basically the same painting but reworked.
Essentially for the bulldogs I did a David Bowie Record cover, “The David Bowie Diamond Dogs”. With Sydney, because the Swans had played finals for something like 17 out of the past 20 years I thought of the Kiss record cover Dynasty and having them on that. I guess I was proud of being able to do this. It was a bit of a big ask to come up with the two very separate pieces of work knowing that one was just not going to be used.
You touched on the It’s Been A Big Week in Art column, how did that come about?
About six years ago I just started doing some of these portraits just as enjoyment. I ran a few of them by the editor and we ran them as posters during the finals in 2011. Just as stand alone images. Then I was asked to do them every week with words. The next footy season it started (2012) and has been going for five years.
Football culture is slowly changing but still has that stigma as being an all-boys club. What are some of the challenges for you when it comes to promoting and getting your abstruse football art out into the world of football?
Not to be mean, but football players to me are like characters in a big pantomime. James Hird is a great example. There was so much strong feeling about Hird. A lot of anti-feeling. A lot of pro feeling. It’s easy when you go to a match to say ‘Gee I hate that player’ but you don’t really hate that player, because you don’t know that player. You just hate the character that he is. I feel a footy fan could read what I’ve written and created and they’ll recognize it, they’ll understand it. Generally it won’t be some obscure rambling.
What role do you think football abstract art plays within the football community and how important is it?
Every year there’s always an exhibition about footy somewhere. It may be straight forward but there’s enough questioning and bringing all the elements together. It’s a slow burn. Footy can be left of centre sometimes. Sure people come to the exhibitions because it’s about footy but they’ll also be free to express their disgust if they like. It’s a very slow burn. We are getting better at it. The Women’s league has been very good for football.