Joe DiMaggio “The Swing”
Year – 2013
Size – 24″x38″
Medium – Black & white acrylic paint and colored pencil on gessoed board
Take heart, Mrs. Robinson. Joltin’ Joe hasn’t left and gone away. He’s right here, reborn, brought back to life in stunning ultrarealistic detail, as if it’s the summer of 1941 all over again, as if this streak and this swing are eternal, as if our heroes can still fulfill our highest hopes and dreams. It’s not bravado or hubris, but rather pure aesthetic appreciation, that spurs us to make the following statement: Adam Port was born for this. He has turned a simple
photo into a complex artistic masterwork whose sheer magnitude—in both size and scope—breathes such fresh air into the scene as to give one the impression of having never truly seen “The Swing” before. You re-experience DiMaggio’s unique balance of brute power and balletic grace. You gain a renewed appreciation for the geometry of stadium architecture and the shafts of light filtering onto the field. You take a fresh perspective on the foreground’s catcher and umpire, the middleground’s two crouching shutterbugs, and the background’s mass of thrilled fans. Your eyes bounce back and forth between the Yankee Clipper’s kinetic form and Griffith Stadium’s structural shapes.
As Port explained his process, “Typically when I’m creating a painting, I want the main figure to immediately take center stage, dominate the image, and draw the viewer’s gaze without any other distractions. And while that was still true here—with Joe’s intense facial expression absolutely front and center—I also just found the architectural backdrop really visually interesting and dynamic, really captivating in its own way. So I ultimately strove for an interplay between the two and decided not to dim or soften the background features quite as much as I might have otherwise. That juxtaposition of the stadium’s rigid lines and DiMaggio’s fluid movement was my favorite aspect of the painting. Plus it’s just such an incredible freeze frame at the perfect instant mid-swing. It all looks so effortless and natural, like it was his destiny to be at the exact right place at the exact right time.”
To truly tell the tale of “The Swing”—taken as Joe D eclipsed George Sisler’s A.L.-record 41-game hit streak on June 29, 1941—it’s important to hearken back to the earliest days of DiMaggio’s hot hand in mid-May. That’s when the legend lent one of his bats to fellow Bronx Bomber outfielder Tom Henrich, who then magically turned a slump into an offensive tear. Now fast forward to June 29th. It’s the interlude between Games 1 and 2 of a Washington D.C. doubleheader as 31,000 fans brave the sweltering 98-degree temperature and wait to witness history. DiMaggio, sitting on Sisler’s milestone, returns from the locker room only to discover that his “Betsy Ann”—the tried-and-true streak lumber carefully hand-sanded to his specs—is nowhere to be found. “Tommy, you got my ball bat?” he asks Henrich. Turns out, though, it’s been stolen by a fan. So DiMaggio makes do with a back-up piece of wood…to no avail. Pop-outs in the first, third and fifth innings. He’s 0-for-3. In the seventh, just before Joe’s potential final at-bat, Henrich approaches his sullen teammate and offers up the very DiMaggio model club borrowed more than a month earlier. “You should take this one back and try it, Joe,” Henrich says. “There’s some hits in here.” And so there are. Joltin’ Joe laces the second fastball into left for a clean single—his record-breaking 42nd game in a row. The Griffith Stadium faithful roars and the Yankees dance a dugout jig as DiMaggio gets congratulations at first base from coach Earl Combs, fielder Mickey Vernon, even umpire Bill McGowan. “Here’s where the big test comes,” Joe D says afterwards of the streak. “It’s going to be even tougher from now on, but I’d sure like to make it last a while.”