The Art of the Game: Three Artists Elevating Basketball in Modern Art

Basketball is so much more than a game. It’s an art. It’s a form of expression unlike anything else in the world, and it inspires the artists at Hoop Dream Studios to create hoops and backboards that elevate the game in the eyes of others. But we’re far from the only artists looking to elevate basketball in modern art. 

Here are three of our favorite creators who inspire us.

David Hammons

David Hammons infuses his art with the African-American experience. Every piece he creates uses materials drawn from that experience, leading to abstract pieces that are as much historical touchstones as they are riffs on modern life.

The 1980s saw Hammons adopt basketball as one of his key themes, and it inspired him for decades.

Perhaps his most interesting piece is his simply titled “Basketball Drawing.” Created in 2001, the piece saw Hammons bounce a basketball covered in dirt from the streets of Harlem onto paper, with each bounce coming from regulation hoop height. Behind that scuffled dirt is a suitcase, with the piece being a commentary on the disparity between the inner-city neighborhoods in which many African-Americans grow up and the world of professional sports they aspire toward.

It’s an interesting piece, almost resembling a dark and stormy sky. It serves as a reminder that no matter how strong a young person’s dreams of becoming a basketball star may be, they should never neglect the other crucial aspects of life – love and education – in pursuit of that dream.

Barkley Hendricks

To many in the art world, Barkley Hendricks is known for his portraiture ahead of anything to do with basketball. But in the 1960s and 1970s, he turned his focus to our favorite game, creating several interesting pieces that, similarly to Hammons’s work, represent what it means to be African-American.

His most famous piece is “Father, Son, And…”. The piece is presented in a triptych, a form traditionally used in religious iconography using three panels to depict a trio of scenes. By using this art form, Hendricks comments on the almost-religious devotion many have to the game, essentially idolizing it as others idolize religious figures.

The titular father and son are nowhere to be seen in the triptych. Instead, it showcases a hoop at three times of the day – night, noon, and evening – perhaps to showcase the passage of time.

Hank Willis Thomas

Unlike the more muted work of Hammons and Hendricks, Hank Willis Thomas shocks with spectacle.

Nowhere is this clearer than in his piece “Icarus Falling.” A riff on Henri Matisse’s famous “Icarus” painting, Thomas’s work positions the Icarus figure as a body seemingly wrapped in a chalk outline. Surrounding that body is a patchwork of basketball journeys, perhaps showcasing a figure that flew too close to the sun with his dreams of basketball stardom, only to be brought back down to Earth. It’s a commentary on the incompatibility of the dreams of basketball stardom many in the African-American community have and the reality of gun violence.

Thomas’s other works are less directly iconoclastic. Take “No. 8” as an example. Commissioned by the NBA as part of the “That’s Game” exhibition in 2021, the piece seems simple on the surface. Thomas sews together a patchwork of jerseys to create the iconic figure of Jerry West, as seen in the NBA logo. But underneath that seemingly simple work lies a commentary on consumerism, represented by the expensive jerseys used to create the piece.

Basketball Is Modern Art

Hammons, Hendricks, and Thomas elevate basketball in the modern art world. Their work inspires us at Hoop Dream Studios to represent the game in new ways. Discover our work that transforms the conventional basketball hoop by elevating it to a new level of design.  Check out our gallery or order your customized hoop today.