Special Feature: Honoring the Habs, Sport through Art

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by Paine Proffitt, Special to All Habs Hockey Magazine

Paine Proffitt - Montreal Canadiens
(Artwork by Paine Proffitt)

 

STAFFORDSHIRE, U.K. — The Montreal Canadiens have always had an aura and a majesty about them.  I’m actually a Flyers fan but have always had an awe and respect for the Habs … the red, blue and white sweater commands it.  The long history of the club, the players, the Stanley Cups and just the name IS hockey.  I first fell in love with hockey after moving to Philadelphia as a kid in 1986 and instantly had a fascination with the game … I loved the Flyers, Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers were beautifully dominating the game and Montreal had just won another Stanley Cup … it all seemed magic and started something in me that I’d return to almost 30 years later.

I grew up and followed my interest in art, going to art school and then worked as a freelance illustrator in the US.  Life eventually had me moving to England, where I still live and work.  After several years of doing editorial illustrations for other people and painting their ideas, eventually the thought of doing another stock market or optometry illustration made me want to curl up in a ball under my desk and cry … and not “we just won the Stanley Cup” tears, but ugly “please for the love of all that’s Holy make it stop” tears.  My love of art was dying a quick death and I decided to leave the illustration market and paint what I wanted to paint, what I was passionate about and actually had a deep interest in.  That had always been sports … mostly hockey, baseball and soccer.  For some reason, during all those years the thought had never occurred to me to paint what I wanted, to paint what interested me or to paint sports … the feeling to do this simple thing and the freedom was liberating (even if a bit frightening).

As I was living in England and have a passion for football (which by English law I must call, instead of “soccer”), the first thing I started painting was “the beautiful game” and tried a few soccer pieces.  Oh they were awful but it didn’t matter, I was painting what I wanted and was happy.  I frustratingly experimented with a few styles and it took a couple of years before I could even find a look to my work that I was comfortable with.  I’m still constantly changing and experimenting with the artwork, which results in the odd canvas or two being drop-kicked across the studio in frustration, but my love for painting the game has only gotten stronger.

(Artwork by Paine Proffitt)
(Artwork by Paine Proffitt)

Once my work started to get to a half-way decent standard (which I look back on now and cringe with embarrassment) I began approaching art galleries and then English and Scottish soccer teams about the possibility of working with them and their matchday programs.  Eventually one club, West Bromwich Albion, took a chance and asked me to do the covers of their program.  The West Brom program editor is one of the best editors I’ve ever worked with and champions art that makes you think, that takes risks and has an edge … something different that stands out and makes you take notice.  With his encouragement I started taking little steps in pushing the boundaries of my work, which I still try to do today.  The West Brom club also has a rich and proud history that the editor values deeply and wanted putting into the artwork, which started my interest and understanding in the history of a game, a team, a club and its importance to the fans.  It got me understanding the tradition, peculiarities and value of a club and its history … it’s the players and past, the love and loss, the identity and people, the glories and heartaches of generations of players and fans before … it’s going to your first Canadiens game with your dad, cheering at the Forum, it’s wearing the sweater playing street hockey as a kid pretending you’re Maurice Richard, Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden or Patrick Roy.  The team is intertwined with the community and the city’s identity … Montreal more than others.

With this, my artwork started to change and I tried to put other intangible elements into the paintings … I wanted to incorporate history, tradition, religion, emotion, power, passion, heart, the importance to the fans and the fans themselves into the pieces.  Without trying to sound too cheesy, I want to include the heart of the game and supporters into the artwork and try to touch on something that goes beyond the sport.

I began working with other soccer clubs and their programs.  To state the obvious, I found each club uniquely different with their own identities and quirks that make it special, but there is always the same common thread that runs through each club and its fans.  This is the same for North American sports, especially hockey and baseball.

Only recently, after years of working with English football, I felt a need to return to my past and my love for hockey and baseball, and have only just started painting these sports.  All those same elements are at the heart of hockey and the fans, and I’ve really enjoyed trying to paint it.

While I’m not a historian by any means, over the years the history and a traditional element have been a big part of my work.  I’d say there’s a strong nostalgia feel in my work and a lot of my stuff has a vintage 1910-1950s look to it … the game has a romance to it when looking back on the past, which I love.  Because of this my hockey work is mostly focused on the Original 6 teams and a few hockey clubs that were around during the early days of the sport.  It’s been a pleasure painting the game and learning more as I go along.  I’d also like to expand that to more modern teams soon.

Over the years I’ve also picked up a lot of different influences that have contributed to the style and artwork.  A lot of this input reinforces the nostalgia/vintage feel to my work … things like vintage posters, photographs, hockey cards and memorabilia; listening to stories and reading about the players, their lives and games of the past; watching games and film that captures the identity and history of the team, etc.  There are also dozens of artists that also help inspire the artwork.  All of this contributes to the finished paintings.

The history, romance and draw of the Montreal Canadiens is second to none.  The club’s wonderful and complicated past is showered with glories, heartaches, triumphs and tragedies.  Some of the players that have pulled on the Canadiens sweater are the personification of the game … legends so big that hockey would be an empty shell without them.  The Canadiens legends and Stanley Cups won in Montreal make the Canadiens one of the greatest names in sports and leaves a legacy that is truly admirable and unique.  Not to mention that the red Canadiens sweater is simply one of the most beautiful sights in sport.  I’m looking forward to learning and painting more.

To see more original artwork, visit PaineProffitt.com

Paine Proffitt - Forum Montreal Canadiens 10cDuo
(Artwork by Paine Proffitt)

 

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