In the Paint: Artist turns love of sports into fan-friendly art

Bryan Reynolds

A LITTLE DAB’LL DO YA. Artist Derek Carlson, a Chippewa Valley native, specializes in sports-themed paintings, including portraits of Wisconsin stars (from top) Hank Aaron, Bart Starr, and Robin Yount.
A LITTLE DAB’LL DO YA. Artist Derek Carlson, a Chippewa Valley native, specializes in sports-themed paintings, including portraits of Wisconsin stars (below) Hank Aaron, Bart Starr, and Robin Yount.

For those of us who have watched or played sports in the past, it is easy to picture a particular game or moment that has made an impact on you. We have all skimmed the newspaper the day following a big game and reflected back on the defining scene as the writer talked us through the big plays. Derek Carlson, a western Wisconsin artist, is leveraging his passion for art into a business that allows these moments to come to life through vivid paintings on many different types of canvases.

“It is special to meet these incredible sportsmen while they are still around, and pay them respect for the history they created.” – artist Derek Carlson, on meeting the subjects of his sports-themed paintings

Typically using oils, Carlson paints photorealistic portraits of famous athletes, sometimes atop vintage newspaper clippings, creating a niche product that appeals to those looking for athletically inspired art. Carlson also paints barn board, saw blades, and many other surfaces, and continues to explore further options to satisfy his clientele.

Derek, a native of Eleva who teaches art in Osceola, just wants to find his way to leave a lasting mark on the people he interacts with. He grew up around sports, and always found himself collecting memorabilia along the way.

“It is really cool to take something old and give it new purpose,” Carlson said. Maybe this new purpose is introducing a Chippewa Valley youth ball player to Burleigh Grimes, the Hall of Fame pitcher, who threw the last legal spitball in the major leagues. Or maybe this purpose is showing a young man a picture titled “An Odd Couple,” inspiring him to think back to the days of fishing with his great-grandfather Up North. Derek wants to take you back to those memories and reflect on the good ol’ days.

Carlson makes no effort to document the dog days that sports teams experience or the memories worth forgetting. He only wants to paint the times that stand out, the ones that reeled spectators into fandom.

Carlson’s artistic gift has led him to meetings with athletes such as the Minnesota Twins’ Rod Carew, the Milwaukee Brewers’ Gorman Thomas, and basketball hall-of-famer Julius “Dr. J” Irving. He has had athletes – include Packers’ greats Donald Driver and Clay Matthews – sign these custom works and has traded paintings to their subjects in exchange for autographs and collectibles. “It is special to meet these incredible sportsmen while they are still around, and pay them respect for the history they created,” he said.

Derek doesn’t have to follow any rules, as this passion project is just an extension of him doing what he loves. He can be found in his basement space with vinyl records of Johnny Cash or Neil Diamond spinning, and filling the creative air. His day job allows him to teach and mold students in Osceola while his free-time hobby allows him to bring the history of sports to life. Derek has a rare and unique talent, coupled with an astounding work ethic, and it doesn’t sound like he’ll be leaving the field anytime soon.

See more of Derek Carlson’s art and find out about upcoming shows at djcarlson.weebly.com.

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