Julian Pace is a particular painter of memory. A few years ago, when I visited his studio that resulted in a feature in our print publication, he told me “I think I’m more interested in the human form and the people rather than who they are necessarily. It’s very random sometimes.” That he paints sports figures, and in his new solo show Front and Back, particularly basketball players of past eras, it’s about the form but also what the memory does to form. These players are larger than life because at a particular time when we saw them on the court, mostly in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, they felt larger than life. Pre social media, when perhaps you were of a younger age yourself, the likes of Ewing, Bryant, Bird and even Baylor seem to jump out of our minds as superheroes. Pace is painting this.
As the gallery notes, “While some viewers may be drawn to depictions of the celebrated athletes, to Pace, the men captured have a simple use function: to allow Pace to toy with the limits of composition and form in an iterative process of doing and re-doing, from sketch to painting to even more painting.” To be familiar with the subjects is quite important, though. To know what these players meant to the sport they played, whether Hall of Fame level or just a simple role player, to know them is to see them differently here. There’s a boldness that Pace can play with, and the fact that he paints them just larger than life is an exceptional touch of vivid collective memory. These were men, but they were also the absolute peak of their craft. And Pace is now playing ball with them. —Evan Pricco