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Artists Explore a New Canvas: Tennis Courts

Artists Explore a New Canvas: Tennis Courts


While the hairstyles and fashion trends of tennis players have dramatically evolved over the years, the courts themselves have mostly stayed the same. For over a century, they have been monochrome, with clean white lines delineating precisely measured boxes; the uniformity of each court is essential to facilitating the creativity that happens on it.

But this year, a few artists have disrupted this orderliness in five cities: Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, Cincinnati and New York. At the court in Miami, the center of the net seems to emit bold rays that form giant multicolor hearts. In Chicago, players run between leaflike shapes of varying shades of green. And in Brooklyn, courts in Highland Park reopened on Saturday filled with blistering comic-book lettering reminiscent of Roy Lichtenstein.

This project, “Art Courts,” was spearheaded by the United States Tennis Association as part of a 50th anniversary celebration of the U.S. Open. Organizers hope to inject a dash of enthusiasm and color into community tennis courts in underserved neighborhoods — as well as enliven a sport that, to some, possesses a reputation for stuffiness and adherence to rules.

The program was funded by Chase as part of a $500,000 effort to support youth tennis. Five artists were commissioned to create designs for newly rehabilitated courts that are used by the public and for youth instruction, including Justus Roe of Chicago; KiiK Create, a duo in Miami (Manoela del Pilar Madera Nadal and David Gray Edgerton); and Charlie Edmiston of Los Angeles.

Sen2 Figueroa, a Puerto Rican-born artist known for his graffiti, was picked to design eight courts in Highland Park, in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn. He submitted a first draft that reined in his splashy style. “I tried to do something with minimal color, trying to let them keep playing,” he said in a phone interview. But organizers persuaded him to stay faithful to his pop-art-inspired aesthetic. So he created a new design with bright red letters spelling out “BAM.” An enormous cartoon eye covers two courts.

Working with the actual canvas, however, turned out to be a challenge of another magnitude. Whether with easels or walls, Mr. Figueroa is used to working upright with spray cans; this project required him to work on his knees with rollers, and to use a type of paint specifically created for smoothness and durability to withstand heavy wear from sneakers. He and James Rodriguez, another artist, say they worked three, 12-plus-hour days to finish the project.

“This was one of the most difficult projects I did in my life; but I liked it a lot,” Mr. Figueroa said. “I wanted it crispy. I didn’t do it for the money. I want people to appreciate the details.”

Organizers say the courts will not be used for regulation games, but rather mostly instruction and public use. Jose Rodriguez, a Highland Park tennis instructor, said in an interview that the seemingly distracting art on the courts might actually improve his lessons.

“Tennis is a sport of concentration; the mental part is very important,” he said. “I think we can use it as targets.”



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