The gallery is filled with color and three-dimensional forms inspired by two-dimensional imagery found in advertising and signage, public discourse and encounters in Ben Stone’s daily life. The wooden sculptures, whimsical and humorous, include predominantly orange-hued “Danny Volleyball” (2016), vivid blue “Danny Karate” (2013), sunshine-yellow “Danny Hockey” (2013), bright red “Danny Baseball” (2016) and earthy green “Danny and Donny Bicycle” (2016)—each serving as a celebration of their respective sports in a unique way.
Elsewhere, there’s Mary Lou Retton, the American retired gymnast who won the all-around gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics and was the first American woman to do so. Following her win, she was featured on the Wheaties cereal box, cementing her status as a national icon and an inspiration. Here, featured with her arms thrown up in the air, she’s portrayed as the embodiment of winning. Stone’s work ranges from “Benjamin Nimajneb” (2013)—two baseball players playing a tug of war of sorts—to Abraham Lincoln wearing a Chicago Bears hat in “Abe’s Song” (2008), and to “Blue Meanies” (2010), a nod to a hooligan incident where two drunk White Sox fans (William Ligue Jr. and his fifteen-year-old son William III) leaped over the fence to attack Kansas City Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa at Chicago’s then Comiskey Park, inflicting the latter’s permanent hearing loss. The life-size figures—clothing, hair and even tattoos—are brought to life via ballpoint pen on resin-coated, enamel-painted polystyrene and wood. To add to the sports viewing experience, “Untitled Chairs” (2016), made out of powder-coated aluminum and hand-woven plastic on prefabricated chairs, serves as a nostalgic, retro colorful touch.
Mixing up the familiar and the unfamiliar, while adding dark humor and a dash of irony into the mix, Stone has the power to elevate even the most mundane subjects to the level of cultural icons. This is not to say that sports are mundane at all, rather they provide an opportunity for connection, reflection and perhaps even introspection: What’s important when it comes to contemporary American life? What defines us individually and collectively? Where do our passions lie and how far are we willing to go to pursue them? Importantly, what lies in the in-betweens of low-brow and high art?
“The reviews are nice but being proclaimed the official sculptor of 670 The Score [a Chicago sports radio station] feels so much more on target for what my interests are,” says Stone in the exhibition essay, perfectly encapsulating the essence of his work. More than experiences and observations—which he often twists and manipulates to the point where they become unrecognizable—he captures emotion. His work prompts the viewer to see the ordinary in a new light—and maybe even find something rather extraordinary within it. (Did I mention that “Treehuggers” is a dog-and-cat duo staring—chasing?—at each other around a tree? The resin-coated polystyrene statue stands on a table, complete with a red felt tablecloth and a party-store fringe—an intriguing yet playful sight that borders the absurd.) The bottom line? “SPORTS!”, on view at (northern) Western Exhibitions, the gallery’s Skokie outpost, is worth the trip.
“Ben Stone: SPORTS!” is on view at (northern) Western Exhibitions, 7933 North Lincoln, Skokie through December 17.