Seeing Brad Miller from afar, I’m not sure any fanbase has truly appreciated the beauty of the game of the big man. Once up close, the very slow-moving particulars of it become quite apparent, from the undersized, amateurish tattoos that dot his massive arms to the fact of his superior passing from the high-post, a fact repeated so many times by flummoxed play-by-play men that Miller himself thinks he can do things he cannot from the elbow (like trying to get the ball through two or more defenders’ legs). Yes, if any Houston Rocket deserved to be committed to canvas, Miller was truly the man.
Thankfully, Cody Ledvina was there to do the committing. Ledvina is the co-founder of The Joanna, an art space devoted to connecting contemporary art practices to the Houston community. The Rockets fan-cum-artist is based in Houston, earning an MFA from the University of Houston, and tells me that he owns a dog named Hakeem. Ledvina also curates the small cafe Brasil in the Montrose area of Houston, where these monuments to all of the wonder of Miller’s game can be appreciated by all. I had a brief talk with Ledvina that follows (with his responses emboldened).
Why Brad Miller?
I think he sort of embodied this Rockets team of the last two years. It was a kind of Rockets team that I’ve really enjoyed watching; last year’s, and this year’s, have been my favorite teams to watch. We might not be the best, but there’s always something to root for and always the possibility things could change. That we can win any type of game; there’s also the possibility we could **** up. When Brad comes in… you know, I genuinely love watching him play, but there’s some excitement because it’s like, “How is this going to work? How is this going to happen?” Sometimes he’ll make things happen out of nowhere, and sometimes you just think, “I could have done that better.” He’s an amazing player to watch.
Why exactly do you think he’s sort of attained this cult hero status?
I don’t know; maybe it’s just that he’s a big white guy. He’s sort of a … I don’t know how to explain it. Maybe a YMCA type of player. Like a dude who dominates the Y. I think that’s why he’s made it; he’s sort of this enigma. Kevin Love is this big, lumbering white guy, but he’s…
It’s a little different…
Brad’s just a little older, and he’s still great; he’s still good.
I love the idea of Brad as the “YMCA All-Star”.
And he can hold his own, at times, with these guys. He’s sort of like the dream. You know, we all, at least some of us, white dudes, see ourselves in Brad Miller. Trying to clumsily get that ball in there.
Looking at these, almost every one of these pieces looks exactly the same…
Well, that’s just for repetition. Just for a classic formal idea of repetition; like an Andy Warhol print, something repeated over and over and over. There’s something to be said for that. Switching color schemes, and a couple are reversed. It’s the same image; we were just making a brand of Brad.
I really, really like “a brand of Brad”. I also liked the idea… especially because he’s not the kind of guy you’d think to see on a card or anyone would ever want to collect, that when you put his name on each painting, they sort of look like these bizarro trading cards… from the YMCA, maybe. Why did you decide to put the name on each?
Because the likeness is so un-Brad Miller. I mean, it looks nothing like him. I wanted to make Brad Miller paintings. There was no… my buddy who sort of made the construction completely missed on the facial features… and everything else, so we had to sort of label it. It really ended up being an effective visual tool, though; it sort of filled up the space and really added another color complement.
Keeping the sweatband in every painting really made me happy, especially now that even you mentioned the likeness being a bit off. Is that why you kept it?
What we were going to do, we were going to put that little Scrappy (from Scooby-Doo) tattoo in, but we just never got around to it. We decided that that the headband and the sweatband… does he wear a sweatband?
I don’t think he does (Ed. Note: He does.)
Well, we put it on there. Now, I think it’s important to tell you how these were done; we constructed them using pipe cleaners, dipping them in the paint, sometimes four or more times, and sort of messily applying sort of crappy paint.
Why did you choose pipe cleaners?
Just another way of making a line. Because we were wanting to get that repetition and didn’t have silk-screening supplies, we went for the cheapest way of making a print. And in this case, it was pipe cleaners.
I feel like basketball has always really lent itself to art because everyone talks about how beautiful the game is visually, but you went for the absolute anti-… you didn’t have a picture of LeBron or Derrick Rose; you had Brad Miller pump-faking.
In the triple-threat.
(There was laughing here) What do you think that aesthetic choice says about your basketball paintings?
That’s something I haven’t thought about. You’re right; the basketball imagery is definitely playing a role in contemporary art. The last ten years it’s been getting bigger. Because it’s so fluid and… you’re right, Brad Miller is the antithesis of that. And I think that’s probably why we gravitate to him, you know. He’s the scrappy, “Get ‘Er Done” kind of guy. Apparently, and I may be wrong on this, but one of my friends told me that when they go on road trips, he’ll go hunting.
I think he was a really close friend of Jared Jeffries (Ed note: recently waived and playing for New York), and I’ve kind of wondered if Brad’s been sad. They used to hunt together because Jared was also this Indiana-bred… just hanging out, shooting stuff.
As a Rockets fan, how have you enjoyed the train ride of consistently above-average to the peek at greatness to should-be-rebuilding of the last half-decade?
Hard. As I’m sure it’s been with everyone. But still, you have to keep a sense of reality that, of course, we’re not there yet; we’re not going to be there for another year or two, and we have to make big changes (to the roster). Still, I will say for the two or three years before the last couple, it was far more frustrating to be a part of those teams.
You mean the McGrady Years?
I mean, I was excited he was here, and he produced for the first few years. But I’m more of a team-ball type of fan. Once that dynamic shifted, once McGrady got hurt, and even when Yao was still active… those were some exciting times. And I was in Los Angeles (when the Rockets played the Lakers in the 2008 Western Conference Smeifinals), so it was amazing to have all of those fans around me and be the only bastion of hope. That really solidified my fandom.
Most people would view the artist being a sports fan as a little incongruous. Do most people who know you know you’re a Rockets fan?
No. I run a gallery, and at every opening, I’ll have at least two or three conversations with people I haven’t talked to before, or never talked to about sports, and we’ll get into the Rockets. And people will sort of crowd around, perplexed (at the juxtaposition). But I think in the end, those two worlds belong together. The superstars are the geniuses; you make moves that perplex people in the world, or in your world. And that’s literal in basketball; you know, you actually make the moves. You develop new styles, and they change. There’s a language that’s sort of insular that’s extremely dynamic; it’s hard to get used to. And it’s appealed to (different) generations. Think about the 80’s and how much the game’s changed since then; it’s developed. (Just like art), there are things that develop around ideas. And I think that’s pretty solid.
Red94 contributor Jacob Mustafa is ethnically Palestinian and Mexican, yet can speak no Arabic and little Spanish; therefore, he decided to try harder at this Englishy business.