KC SPORTS ARTIST ATTRACTING MAJOR LEAGUE CLIENTS
By Theresa Kelsay – Contributing Writer
Kansas City has a sports artist who’s been selling his paintings to sports fans and MLB players around the country. If you know Anthony “AO” Oropeza or if you follow him on social media, you might know that he recently completed a painting commemorating Albert Pujols’ 600th home run, commissioned by the MLB player’s wife, Deidre. Or that earlier this year, one of his original paintings was acquired by Seattle Mariner Jarrod Dyson. Or that Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer purchased two prints from AO in February. Or that a print of an AO original of Danny Duffy now resides at the Duffy home.
Whether or not you know the modest artist, who says he just wants to cultivate his craft and pay the bills, it’s unlikely you’ve heard about his recent success.
Oropeza first worked with Deidre Pujols in 2016 when she hired him to design a logo for her charity foundation, Open Gate International. Almost a year later, while AO was working on another logo design for Mrs. Pujols, she requested that he paint a commemorative piece for her husband Albert Pujols’ upcoming 600th home run. As both a sports artist and baseball fan, Oropeza says he was honored to be asked to help celebrate Pujols’ accomplishment, a feat that only eight other MLB players have achieved since Babe Ruth, Pujols being the eighth since August 1931.
“Albert’s 600” is an AO original created for the Pujols’ personal collection that is a 5 ft. x 4 ft. mixed media piece featuring a layout design that incorporates typography, graphics, and Oropeza’s signature abstract background and rugged baseball feel. Not only is the piece a gift from Mrs. Pujols to her husband honoring his achievement, but a print of it was gifted to over 200 guests that attended the inaugural Open Gate International fundraising event in Newport Beach, California, held on July 17, 2017. Along with Mr. and Mrs. Pujols, the fundraiser was attended by Angels players and local celebrities.
But the Pujols are not AO’s only MLB customers. In the wake of Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordono Ventura’s untimely death, like so many creatives do, the sports artist sought solace on the canvas. His intention was to memorialize the athlete in an original painting. This he did for himself, intending to send a canvas print to the fallen Ventura’s family. When he shared the nearly finished work on social media, he was almost immediately contacted by former Royal turned Seattle Mariner Jarrod Dyson. Mr. Dyson secured the painting before it was complete.
Shortly after, Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer messaged AO to ask about the already Dyson-promised Ventura piece. Ultimately, Hosmer purchased two special edition prints on canvas: one to be delivered to his home in Florida, and one to go to Kauffman Stadium. It was not until after AO sent the pieces that Hosmer revealed to him that one of the paintings was for Ventura’s family, which was what AO had originally intended to do. So AO delivered another print on canvas to Hosmer at the K, in order to keep his original personal promise.
These are only a few examples of AO’s many successes as of late.
So how is it that Kansas City has a sports artist in its midst from whom MLB players and their wives are purchasing and commissioning paintings, and there is not more buzz about it?
That’s easy: AO doesn’t have a boastful nature. Even after he sold the Ventura original to Dyson and prints to Hosmer, he only told a couple of people in his circle and asked them to keep it quiet for a while. It was weeks before he felt comfortable having others talk about it, and even then he didn’t announce it on social media right away. And he’s only recently been sharing the progression shots of the Pujols piece, even though he finished the painting weeks ago. Because of the reveal at the Gala in July, he could not share the painting on social media until after the event. But even then he didn’t publicly announce this remarkable achievement in his art career.
According to the artist, “I guess I’m surprised that I’m getting the work and by the overwhelming positive praise for the work I’m doing now versus ten years ago.”
So what’s the difference in ten years?
The Emergence of a Style
For one, Oropeza has come into a style that sets his work apart and has sports fans and art admirers alike following him and his work. In his composition, AO sets a realistic interpretation of the player in mid-action against an abstract background. His abstract backgrounds have become signature in his sports art. The dauntless placement of color and raspy textural backgrounds complement the athletes, while also providing a contrasting plane from which the athlete-subjects seem to come to life and pop off the canvas.
In his most recent piece, “Albert’s 600,” he incorporated graphics, a repeating row of the same image of the player pointing to the sky after he hit his 600th home run. The piece reads of a moment of greatness temporarily relieved from time but not humanity. That is what AO’s style does with his subjects—captures greatness in the beautiful, rugged confines of humanity. (See his 2013 “Mother Teresa” as a testament to this.)
Other characteristics of his work are the hauntingly realistic capture of the subject’s eyes (a thing that Oropeza believes the success of the painting depends on), and his technique for re-creating the individual’s skin through the interplay of brushstrokes rich in tone and ingeniously placed highlights.
At shows and events, people often remark about the unique juxtaposition of the 3D athlete against the abstract background. Followers are beginning to recognize it as the AO style.
Dedication Kicks In
Another thing that changed was Anthony’s dedication to the process. Anthony will be the first to tell you that when he was a young aspiring artist, he didn’t always put art first. Throughout his life, there were times when he worked feverishly for a while to finish a piece, and then had to focus on other things like full-time school and work. It wasn’t until some time around 2013 that he really became intent on solidifying himself as an artist. That meant working as often as possible, not an easy thing for a single parent with a full-time job and a freelance business. It also meant learning more, anything he could from other successful artists: their processes, their techniques and tricks. He read and watched everything he could online and learned things from some of the popular artists at local comicons. In his own paintings, he wanted to achieve certain effects and work more efficiently. He studied other artists’ work, and when he didn’t understand how they had done something, he hunted down the explanation for it. At one point, he posted some work on Facebook that was liked by the artist that has had the greatest influence on AO’s artwork. This eventually led to a long phone conversation with the sports art industry master, Stephen Holland. The respect emanates from AO when he describes how he was able to pick Mr. Holland’s brain and make note of the valuable feedback. It is evident that this was a meaningful moment in Oropeza’s art career.
It’s easier to produce work when people are asking for it. Or at least it’s less fraught with doubt. Once AO began posting works of his new developing style on social media, people began commenting and inquiring about them. Then people began commissioning work. Some of the work was of pro athletes, and some of it was personal—people’s fathers and children. He would paint anything from a MLS player for a die-hard Sporting KC fan to a rodeo cowboy dad on a bucking bronco for a proud daughter. Then came opportunities like the bid he won to design and paint the mural inside the College Basketball Experience in Kansas City. Work seemed to beget work. Not only was he painting because he wanted to have work to sell, people were asking for it.
Anthony has always been a Royals fan. The “5” in his art and design company, AOART5, has been his designated number since little league sports. And that, of course, was in honor of and in deference to the Kansas City great, George Brett. But when the Royals became a championship team once again, people tuned into his Royals sports art even more, coming to see him and the art at events, and buying prints and originals of their favorite Royals players.
Next, Part two…The Subject AO, His Background, and What’s Going on off the Canvas…