Los Angeles-based artist Pat Riot, whose work has been previously shown in Baseball Reliquary exhibitions, recently donated his bubblegum portrait of Dave Winfield to the Reliquary. The Winfield portrait (2013, chewed bubblegum on aluminum panel, 36” x 36”) is a significant addition to the Reliquary’s growing collection of contemporary baseball art, and is on permanent view in the library of the Institute for Baseball Studies at Whittier College, along with artworks by Greg Jezewski, Stephen Seemayer, Michael Guccione, Cynthia Paige Aaron, and others.
In addition to Winfield, Pat Riot has done bubblegum portraits of Darryl Strawberry, Eddie Murray, Matt Kemp, Kerry Wood, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, and Clayton Kershaw. Here are excerpts from a 2013 artist’s statement by Riot, which explains the origins of the bubblegum art and his working process:
“During the spring of 1986, my first and last year of art school in Richmond, Virginia, a peculiar teacher, Frank Heller, inspired me with the following words: ‘I don’t care if you stick bubblegum to a car bumper.’ I had been doing a lot of sports-themed art pieces at that time, so I decided to take his absurdity to task and create a ‘pop-art,’ pointillism portrait of my favorite baseball player, Darryl Strawberry of the New York Mets. I chewed up and rolled thousands of little balls of colored bubblegum, and stuck the small dots onto a large sheet of white paper to resemble an impressionist painting of the Mets’ nine-time All-Star. It was a small, sweet success for me at the time, and later that fall the Mets won the World Series.
“Now, twenty-seven years later, art school and the ’86 World Champion Mets are but a fond, faded memory. The paper that I made the gum portrait on has yellowed and deteriorated because of my college naivete about acid-free paper, and the piece no longer smells like the Kool-Aid man in a candy store. The little balls of gum that made up the portrait, however, have barely faded at all. There was something uniquely fascinating about how the gum had remained relatively intact over the course of almost three decades. Had I been aware of even the simplest concept of preservation, the gum portrait might have lasted . . . forever.”
In preparation for an exhibition in Los Angeles in 2013, Riot revisited his earlier concept and began a series of large impressionist portraits of famous baseball players done entirely with chewed bubblegum. “I can only say that I thought it was going to be easy. Acid-free paper or not, I don’t really remember the college pointillism assignment being that time-consuming. It’s been twelve weeks since I began chewing for this show. My dentist and my internist have both diagnosed me with temporomandibular disorder (TMD). Ten days into the first gum portrait, I had a wisdom tooth pulled because it became abscessed.
“But, I was obsessed. The show must go on. So I began to masticate. And masticate. I was masticating at home and at my studio day and night so that I would have enough pieces for the show. The inside of my mouth feels like a family of little sugar birds has built a nest made of plastic grass and gummy-worm skin. My jawbone sounds like fresh rubber snapping when I chew solid foods, and the joints on my thumb and index finger of my right hand have been ground-down like old brake pads by the incessant pinching and rolling of ten thousand little gum balls.”
To view more of Pat Riot’s artworks, visit his Web site at https://www.popularvulture.com/collage/.