Victor Solomon has become the go-to artist for NBA stars. Solomon’s worked with Kevin Durant and LeBron James to design custom-made pieces, including stained-glass backboards, and he’s collaborated with the Boston Celtics for work related to Paul Pierce’s jersey retirement. Solomon’s love for basketball and the NBA started when he was a kid growing up in Boston, and now he’s collaborating with the league itself.
Solomon teamed up with the league on the VS x NBA Team “Crystal Print” Series, for which he created a hand-pressed gold foil stamp of each of the NBA’s 30 team logos and suspended in a glass floating frame. The series is a hand-numbered, limited edition collection with a run of just 1,000 pieces per team. (You can see the full look at all the team stamps at the Literally Balling site.)
“It’s really a crazy honor to have been a fan of the league for so long and then finally get to work with them on something I’m so proud of,” Solomon told Men’s Journal. “I think the relationship between fan and team is such a powerful one that contextualizes the best parts of civic pride and generational, tribal lineage. Working with the league to create something elegant and sophisticated as a totem to celebrate that has been amazing.”
Solomon’s work has been shown around the world in art shows in New York, Los Angeles, and Shanghai, and he’s also set for exhibitions in Paris and Dubai. For the stars in the NBA, they know who to go to if they want some custom-made, basketball-related art—it’s Solomon.
Solomon spoke with Men’s Journal about designing basketball-related art, collaborating with NBA stars, and his favorite places he’s traveled to.
What’s your process like in creating these VS x NBA Team “Crystal Print” pieces?
I try to stay process agnostic and let the concept of a piece dictate the appropriate approach. For the stained glass works, it’s basically putting together a jigsaw puzzle of glass, but making all the pieces first. For the porcelain Kintsugi basketball, it’s slip casting the vessel, then smashing it and re-assembling it with that storied process. For the Crystal Print’s, it’s hand-pressing gold leaf on this 10-mil. transparent poly substrate and suspending it in this glass floating frame.
What inspires you to create your art and where do you get some of your ideas and inspiration from?
For me, to be able to celebrate sport and use unique, sometimes antiquated processes to create objects that tell a story is the most intoxicating and rewarding thing ever. Inspiration is everywhere – from institutions like churches or museums, hallowed spaces like the Hoosiers gym and Rucker or even just going for a drive and letting your mind go.
You’ve done a lot of work with athletes and the league. What do you like most about working in the sports world and combining that with your art?
I think there’s a natural parallel to the discipline and stylistic flare athletes and artists share. With the acceleration of this sort of image-economy, there’s a desire for evocative “post-able” objects, but also more and more—thankfully—an appetite for meaning and narrative within works. Athletes and artists are both storytellers in their unique ways and it’s been interesting to see a natural connection evolving between the two.
What are some of the things you’re currently working on?
I’m about to head to Boston for an installation at the Celtics new office, then to New York for an installation at the NBPA’s office. I’m also talking with a handful of teams and brands about site-specific sculptures for facilities and stadiums and in the early parts of conceptualizing exhibitions for Dubai and Paris for 2019. Outside of that, I’ve been thinking a lot about the physical activation of a visitor to an experiential space and have a big idea around refining the form of sport as a platform to connect people that we just raised some venture money around, so will be unveiling that summer 2019.
When did you first know you wanted to become an artist?
It was never really a destination or intention. I’ve always been attracted to, and sort of at the mercy of, a compulsion to make things. That’s manifested itself across a number of mediums over the years: painting, writing, film, and all the pieces that got us here. I think the Literally Balling project is amazing because it’s developed into a broad practice and a wide-ranging aesthetic, rather than just a technique or singular type of production.
Where did your basketball fandom come from?
I’m from Boston so the sport has always been a big part of my life. Basketball was special to me because you don’t need much to participate and with the clean meritocracy of it, everyone playing has the same goal. I was a poor, Cambodian Jew kid in East Boston—an outlier to say the least—but within the lines of a basketball court, on the same level as the rich and middle-class Italians and Irish kids I grew up with.
What do you like the most about doing your art shows? What’s the process like for you in putting a show together?
Putting a show together is one of the great thrills because you begin the process with the blankest piece of paper possible. Under the auspices of “art” there’s no creative governor, so the only limitation is your own imagination. I like to back into it from a sort of spatial experience projection, thinking about how a viewer will move through the exhibition – what they come in the door with and how each piece experienced informs the next and what sensation they should have at the end of it.
What are some of the pieces you’ve created for NBA players that you enjoyed working on the most?
I developed this porcelain basketball, broken and reconstructed with a traditional Kintsugi process – which is an ancient Japanese technique of celebrating a ceramic object’s imperfections as formative steps in it’s journey by filling the cracks with gold – a technique that felt like a perfect metaphor for the athlete’s journey. Nike and Hypebeast reached out about putting together an exhibition in Shanghai for Lebron’s Asia tour and we created a variation of these pieces for the occasion. As we all know, he’s grown up in front of us and had a rich and storied career, so I made 16 unique pieces for the experience, one to represent each year in the league. Got to have a great conversation with him about it and he understood and loved the narrative and symbolism of the works.
Your career has taken you around the world. What are some of your favorite places that you’ve been? Any places you’d still like to go?
I was really taken with Shanghai and surprised by how much I loved it. I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s a gorgeous, cosmopolitan city that both feels rich with history and represents the promise of the future at the same time. Looking forward to getting back their soon. I’m excited to explore Dubai for the first time and have yet to experience Italy or Greece. Looking forward to returning to Paris and Melbourne, but for now, happy to sit on the couch for a little while.
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What do you hope people take away from interacting with your art and when they take it home with them?
There’s a lot—I think basketball as a dynamic connector that flattens class/race/socioeconomic segregators, I think the piece-by-piece conceptual narrative I try to build into every piece, that aesthetically it’s pleasing to experience—but also, that this can be anything you want.