By Rob Mattson
Football and painting seem to have as much in common as Nietzsche and NASCAR, but David Gloman can attest otherwise. The 19-year veteran of Amherst College, a resident artist in the Department of Art and the History of Art, was hired to create drawings of 30 of today’s best football players as part of the ESPN production of the 77th Heisman Memorial Trophy Presentation. On Dec. 10, Baylor University player Robert Griffin III became the 32nd quarterback to earn college football’s most coveted trophy, but the opportunity to be part of such an iconic event was a victory for Gloman as well, like a swollen river that finally crested, but only after years of ebbing, flowing, meandering and shaping the landscape of his life.
Photos and Multimedia by Rob Mattson
ESPN asked Gloman to submit work for consideration, and the painter was surprised to hear that he had been chosen for the Heisman project. In fact, ESPN creatives thought highly enough of his work to give him a lot of creative freedom. They even interviewed him about his creative process, using his thoughts as words in a voiceover during the award show’s introduction (which begins around the two-minute mark in this video).
Filming of the introductory scene took place at Kaufman Studios in Astoria, Queens. Under a single hanging light, Gloman sat on a stool atop the studio’s timber floor, in a 20-by-20-foot space, in front of a wooden easel speckled with paint from works past. Three screens occupied 270 degrees of wall space, on which more than 75 years of college football greatness was projected. Within an arm’s length to his left, on a pedestal, rested an exact replica of a sculpture that symbolizes all that is sacred for those who enter the church of college football each Saturday: the Heisman Memorial Trophy. With pencil and paper, the artist produced close to 30 sketches of the athletes and the trophy over a four-hour filming period.
The trophy itself is part and parcel of a unique relationship between art and football. According to the Heisman announcement website, the Downtown Athletic Club chose 23-year-old artist and Pratt Institute's 1931 graduate Frank Eliscu to produce the bronze sculpture, which was Eliscu’s first professional commission and which features 1930s New York University football team starter Ed Smith. The award was initially called the “DAC Trophy” but was renamed after John Heisman, the DAC director of athletics, died in 1936. Located in Lower Manhattan, the historic DAC never reopened after 9/11, but Eliscu’s 13.5-inch-tall contribution to both art and college football remains a constant.
Gloman sketched that trophy on the easel, while a production team of close to 20 people watched and filmed his every motion, gesture and pencil stroke.
The artist admits that the stress level at the shoot was initially quite high, but by taking things one step at a time, he overcame noise on the set and managed to thrive under the pressure. “I just lost myself in that moment,” he says. “I didn’t hear anybody around me, or even think about where I was. I just started to draw that Heisman Trophy, and it was amazing.”
Sketch by David Gloman
The experience, as described by Heisman winner Griffin, was “unbelievably believable”: “It’s unbelievable, because in the moment, we’re all amazed when great things happen, but it’s believable because great things don’t happen without hard work.”
Being able to show work to the country and world in this way was not just a professional or artistic highlight—it was a kind of realization of a boyhood sports fantasy. Gloman, a native of Indiana, was a running back as a freshman in high school. “I don't want anyone to think I actually was good enough to be a pro, because I certainly wasn't,” he says. But he did dream of being a professional athlete—until a knee injury took him out of the game for good. Gloman’s grandmother, who was always one of his biggest supporters, came to his side after the injury and brought him sports magazines to pass the time. The fallen gridiron gladiator soon found himself producing sketches of the athletes. By the time recovery was complete, he had begun thinking about college and making art a part of his life. The field of play had become a blank canvas.
Gloman went on to earn a B.F.A. from Indiana University, an M.F.A. from Yale and eventually, in 2005, a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship. Today, the artist has a studio in Hatfield, Mass., little more than a football field away from the mighty Connecticut River, which he counts as a constant inspiration for his widely acclaimed work. Another major influence is Paul Cézanne, the 19th-century Post-Impressionist French painter known for his approach to color, deep brushstrokes and ability to define space. Perhaps it was the natural sense of geometric balance, consistent energy, movement and gesture in Gloman’s own work that convinced ESPN that he could capture the spirit of the Heisman.
Heisman winner Griffin and artist Gloman have surprisingly much in common. The painter points out that both he and the quarterback must react to stimuli, be able to recognize changes in front of them and maintain awareness of something bigger happening in their environment. They were both raised in households of Christian faith. Both got where they are through unexpected avenues: track was to Griffin what football was to Gloman. Each of them sustained knee injuries that changed their perspectives on a life passion. That Gloman and Griffith both had moments of glory this year at one of the biggest events in college football is fitting, and it’s further evidence that athletics and art can successfully work together.
Gloman doesn’t know whether his three children yet understand what it meant for him to partake in the Heisman project. “I think the most important thing they can get out of this from me is just that sense of, ‘I felt proud.’ I mean, I felt proud that I was chosen!” he says. “One of my mantras has always been—and it’s kind of a cliché, but it’s really true—is that you just keep going, no matter what. … To quote the typical athletic phrase, ‘You give 110 percent’ all the time.”
Painting by David Gloman
The artist tries to pass this idea on to his Amherst students as well. He encourages them to focus not on earning top grades or on giving him what he wants, but on understanding their own reactions to the world and on articulating their own creative visions. He not only points out that which might need to change in students’ art, but also builds on what does work for them, because it bolsters their confidence. This is important, he believes, because artists expose themselves to failure, and that can be “intimidating.” “Most students come out of [my] class with the belief that, ‘I can do this now. I understand this. I didn’t think I could do it, but I could.’”