50 shades of MJ

For Jordan's birthday, four artists reveal their work inspired by His Airness

  • Artist Tracie Ching's "#23"
Artist Tracie Ching's "#23" (Tracie Ching )
February 10, 2013|By Jack M Silverstein | For RedEye

Michael Jordan is back. In silk screen, that is.

In honor of Jordan's 50th birthday on Sunday, Logan Square's Galerie F (2381 N. Milwaukee Ave.) is hosting a monthlong Jordan exhibit featuring MJ-inspired screen prints from three Chicago artists plus one artist in Washington, D.C. The prints go on sale at 2 p.m. Monday at galerief.com and will be available in the gallery starting Tuesday.

RedEye spoke with two of the artists: Tracie Ching, 26, of Washington, D.C., and Galerie F founder Zissou Tasseff-Elenkoff, 30, of Logan Square.

Why did you participate?

Tracie Ching: When Galerie F approached me to design a print for this exhibit, I immediately said yes. The 90s was an incredible time for basketball with players like Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, John Stockton and Patrick Ewing. But as great as those players were, the [1990s basketball] memories that burn brightest for me are those cheering for Michael Jordan while wrapped in my Chicago Bulls blanket. Like so many kids, I looked up to him, and that was the driving force behind this print—capturing the excitement, wonder and pride of watching an American icon and honoring a living legend on his 50th birthday.

Zissou Tasseff-Elenkoff: I've always been a big sports fan. Growing up in London, soccer was my main exposure to sport. You have your stars—the outstanding characters of physical prowess—but they do not dominate games like [Wayne] Gretzky and Jordan. With Jordan, he dominated his sport for years in talent, in his psychological approach and with his off-court personality.

Staying up to 2 or 3 a.m. on school nights in London just to watch American sports, from a very young age, I grew to love those games as much as I had soccer. Jordan was an immensely important character during that time for me. When I moved to Chicago in 2002, I grew to learn how important Jordan and home team sports are to Chicago. It doesn't matter who I met—if they were from Chicago, they loved Michael Jordan. He is almost a religious figure. It is unheard of to slander the man. He is bigger than life.

My Jordan piece is from a series that I began working on about four years ago: the Revolutionary Series, five iconic people in world culture who I deem to be revolutionary in their own way. I chose that image of Jordan because it wasn't iconic. It's a photo of him from when he played with his college team, and I believe playing in college may have meant a little more to him because it was his hometown he was playing for. The Jumpman logo, the Air Jordan shoes, the championship years, and lots of other significant moments are represented in the print.

Favorite on-court MJ memory?

TC: You have to understand that I was very young at the height of Michael Jordan's career, so if I were to answer honestly I would have to say my favorite on-court memory is MJ stretching to score the winning point against the Monstars [in "Space Jam"].

ZTE: There really are too many big plays to choose from. To say I like The Shot over Craig Ehlo and the Cavs better than the Flu Game? Or the shrug after knocking down six 3-pointers [in Game 1 of the 1992 Finals] was more memorable than the final shot and pose for the sixth championship in Utah? To choose one of those game moments over another is like saying who is your favorite child—it's blasphemy.

What did stand out to me though was not an in-game moment, but rather MJ's emotions after the Bulls beat the Sonics [in the 1996 Finals]. The final game was won on Father's Day, and it was Michael's first championship after the death of his father. He did a postgame interview with Ahmad Rashad trying to articulate what it meant winning on that particular day. It was a moment that really showed his humanity, allowing fans to really connect. Under all that talent, competitive drive, and basketball greatness was a vulnerable person like everyone else.

What is it about Jordan that makes him someone artists want to duplicate?

TC: Michael Jordan absolutely makes a great model. As a professional athlete he was in great shape, wasn't hard on the eyes and had a number of interesting and distinguishing attributes (i.e. bald head, sticking out his tongue). But it isn't really his physical appearance that makes him a great subject. Rather it is what he represents. Michael Jordan is a symbol of what we can achieve: someone who can remind us to try harder, work harder, and strive for greatness. Who knows? Maybe one day we will be the Michael Jordan of something.

ZTE: MJ was just a master of his craft AND had his own unique style. He didn't just dominate the game; they were also wonderful to watch, like poetry in motion. There was flair and theatrics that went along with the substance. I think all artists can respect that about him and look to achieve that level of success in their own arena of life. Aesthetically he's just iconic. The bald head, Jumpman pose, the tongue. There's a lot of interesting characteristics about him that could be used in art. We're not the first to do it and I'm sure we won't be the last.

Jack M Silverstein is a RedEye special contributor. Say hey @ReadJack.

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