Clintel Steed’s “Portraits of the Indomitable”

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Even if you don’t follow sports or have a team you support, there is something illuminating about how artists work with the theme and emotion of athletics. It makes sense in terms of the physicality of making art and playing sports; the practice, the dedication, the drive, the success, the results. I like the idea of the cultural undertones that sports present in fine art. The things we remember, we collectively understand, the fandom, the energy, There is also the competition and individuality that sports and art can bring out. And when I see the works of Clintel Steed and his new solo show, Portraits of the Indomitable, on view now at Shrine in NYC, these are so much portraits of football players but a practice in identity and motion, of abstraction and literal figuration. The results are exhilarating. 

Steed refers to these works as anonymous football heads, but there are some familiar faces here. And that is what makes this also an interesting exposé of what we identify with. Like Julian Pace or Leroy Neiman’s depictions of athletes, Steed isn’t telling you that you need to be aware of who is in the frame, but that there is something iconic, fearless and utterly timeless with the work. But there is another angle, something Shrine and Steed note in the press release, but the broken nature of the sport of football. How the protective headgear hasn’t prevented massive head injuries, how players suffer from CTE in their post-playing careers, that these gladiators run out of super human stength in the end. So to see these portraits of helmets, the smiles on the players faces, the grit, the glory with the juxtaposition of sensitivity. With the tenderness of paint, there is the right balance here. —Evan Pricco 

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