A Conversation with Victor Solomon
Victor Solomon likes to talk. Not in the sense that he likes to hear his own voice, but he has a definitive point of view and knows how to convey it articulately. He also makes a habit of speaking things into existence, yet the irony in this, is that Solomon best speaks with his hands. If you’ve seen his opulent hoops with stained-glass backboards and crystal chandelier nets, you’re familiar with his work.
But that’s not all he’s done, from crystal clear basketball courts, to porcelain basketballs to drone flown hoops, the artist has crafted commissioned works for LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Paul Pierce among others and has collaborated with Nike and the NBA on various projects. ‘nique caught up with the lifelong fan of the game for a conversation about his journey, exciting new projects, the intersection of art & hoops and the power of sport in these times.
What was it like as a brown kid growing up in Boston?
That was a big formative part of what drew me to the sport. When I was a kid growing up there, I was kind of the only brown kid. There were a bunch of Jewish kids and Italian kids in the neighborhood that I grew up in, they were all great, but there was always some kind of separation. Actually, what I really wanted to get into was hockey, cause that era in Boston was a big hockey moment. But we didn't have a lot of money and it’s so expensive to get into it, so I gravitated to the easier accessible sport like basketball. I then realized once I got into it, that no matter what ethnicity or financial situation you had, everyone on the court was doing the same thing. I thought that was such a powerful moment. As a very young person, I realized that this is a very cool space for everyone to be on the same level, the goals are very specific; get this thing in that thing and whoever does it the most times wins. It's like the only time in life where you have that very clear direction on what the goals are and that felt really clean to me as a kid. It just always stuck with me and I ended up diving deeper and deeper into that as a fan.
So you grew up a Celtics fan?
Those years were pretty rough, cause the pixiedust of the Bird era was still in the air, but those teams were very bad, for a very long time. The thing about growing up in Boston versus other cities, is that Boston is kind of like a little brother city to New York. So there’s a scrappiness and a chip on the shoulder about Boston. We know we suck, but fuck you, and when we win the chip we’re turning the whole city upside down and you’re never going to hear the end of it. Also, aesthetically I've just always been drawn to the Celtics and it has a very classic look to it. There was always that part in those tough years like, I love Dee Brown, but if it wasn't for that green, would everyone be rocking it as much? There were definitely some lean times being a Celtics fan in that gap, but oh man when ‘08 came, we went crazy! All my Laker friends are still mad about all the shit I talked back then.
Dee Brown and his infamous pump dunk was part of the darkest years of the Celtics franchise.
So how did you get from there to Literally Balling?
Fast forward a bunch of years later, I moved to the west coast. I was living in San Francisco and directing films and just kind of as a hobby, I started apprenticing under some stained glass makers in The Bay. The first piece I was making was the stained glass backboard. It was more to challenge myself creatively, to learn a new craft and celebrate a sport that was meaningful to me as a fan, just to do something for me as a side project. I learned about the craft of that technique and its historical touch points of kings back in medieval times and churches, who would use it as a way to show off to all the people in the court - kind of like cultural superiority. This is a very particular moment, like 2015, where it still felt like there was a bit of a chasm between sports and arts, like a high school trope of the jocks and the creatives, there was still a big separation in that zone. So it was the mixing pot of all of these things and obviously tying back to that idea that sport is this idea that has no barrier to entry and can take you to the level of a king like LeBron. We’ve heard the story a million times of these players that had nothing when they were growing up and just the sheer effort and clean meritocracy of the sport is that they were just good enough to take them into this place. So that they could have the stained glass and the castle and flex on everyone and be the thing the culture was looking towards, to take their notes from. It was just a very organic and natural collection of beats that I don't think I could have controlled if I wanted to, it was just something that found itself. I finished the first one, posted it to my instagram to share with my friends and that somehow got to VICE who did a piece on it, and it just started rolling. That was five years ago and now we’re just going with it. It all happened super fast and super pure, in this way that feels very honoured to be on the ride with it.
KD put on a show in downtown San Francisco featuring Victor's work in 2016.
Who or what inspires you?
I look at everything, I'm sure everyone is looking at the same thing, but it's very amorphous. I'll see a little flick and a prop in the back of a Prada print ad from ‘95, or I got really deep into the Cartier family story. I love all of the hoops culture, but for me where I'm trying to go with it, all my inspirations pull from other realms in this way. In this quarantine I got deep, deep into the history of the Fabergé family and one of their things, was every year they were commissioned by these Russiian oligarch’s to make an Easter egg to give to the wife of the family. Every year they had to top themselves, and they were introducing these sophisticated techniques that had never been implemented before. This is like 1894 and they’re putting mechanical birds into the eggs, for me I love looking into those types of realms that feel pretty untapped in the sports space.
One of Victor's ceramic basketballs using the Kintsugi techinique that has a Fabergé egg feel.
You’ve used glass, crystal, porcelain, gold, ostrich and an inflatable man… what’s the material you can’t wait to get your hands on?
So I'm developing some new trophies with the NBA. We’re starting with resdesigning all of the G League trophies, which they’ve never really given much attention to in the past, but they’re putting a lot more exciting energy behind it. I bring that up because we’re experimenting with some materials that I haven’t really worked with before. We’re going to be casting some stuff in concrete and then suspending it within crystal. I’ve done crystal elements before, but this would be suspended within it and some 3-D printed elements with some text that will be suspended within it as well. Also, I’ve been trying to talk to some partners in the same way Fabergé would do an egg every easter, I’m trying to do a new ball every All-Star Weekend, and really try to use the techniques that they innovated back then, to inform it. There’s a lot of rock crystal which is a very niche jewelry material and different types of vermeils3, I'm just trying to go crazy with it.
Victor's MoonShotVS.007 sculpture features crystal and gold.
Previously you've mentioned doing a marble outdoor court. Let’s say ‘nique has a million dollar check for you, how are you going to sell us on this idea?
We are involved in a space that is acceptive to progeresive ideas. I think that there is an appetite for envelope pushing that is exciting, and the thing that I've learned, if I’ve learned anything, it doesn't even need to be as far as, “If you build it, they will come.” But if you put the spirit into the universe it could come back to you. So Marble Court Sanctuary, that's an idea I’ve been pitching to people since 2016. We made a digital version of it that was in NBA Live last year, and then now there's a conversation about bringing it to life in LA. It would basically be finding the location to implement it and it's just like a very technical process of procedural execution, getting the marble, getting it cut out, getting the brass cut out, inlaying it into that, getting all the pieces together and building it out. It’s the big thing that I learned from my days making films is that no idea is very difficult to execute, it's just figuring out how to get there, it's just setting the bearing on the ship and getting there. The big challenge you ask, is getting to the million dollar cheque!
The EA NBA Live Victor Solomon marble court.
It seems like more ball players are embracing art, why do you think that is?
I feel like just in the last couple of years, there’s been a lot more openness with the emphasis added on personal fashion and people being able to express themselves in that way and continuing to close that gap between the jock and creative space. I think to be totally transparent and honest, buying art is another way to flex. A lot of these kids just got a shitload of money for the first time, some of them didn't come from money, so they’re finding ways to spend it and art is one of those ways. Cars, watches, houses, art, it's in the checklist now which is cool. Some of these players' collections are really thoughtful, they’re not just grabbing whatever someone painted on a backboard, they’re actually building proper collections and have art advisors. So they're really looking at it in a really sophisticated way as a way for them to participate in culture and investment and building out a cohesive collection. I just talked to Kyle Kuzma and he’s making his own paintings and he’s getting into that, I know Kelly Oubre Jr is a super creative guy, Kyrie has talked about his artistic pursuits he wants to get into, so I think it has been de-stigmatized in a way that they are approaching it even more.
Has this pandemic or recent social climate affected your creativity at all?
Less the pandemic and more everything else going on. The pandemic in retrospect was kinda cute, everyone was stuck in the house and baking bread and all this shit, but now we have some real fucking issues. It’s very odd to me as someone that has dealt with the idea that this is still even a conversation, or is a debate is crazy to me. Not to be reductive or simplify it to that level, but I think that it reminded me that there are still people that are not getting this. The pandemic was a nice research or break or whatever, but now it's figuring out what we can do to bring the conversation forward. I’ve been trying to develop this project where we would basically renovate a basketball court, there’s one that I found that’s a little bit south of LA and it's a mess with cracks all over the place. I want to incorporate the kintsugi technique that I was developing with the porcelain basketball, which was all about celebrating the healing, showing that the rejoinery of the ceramic shouldn’t be hidden and you should celebrate it. So what we’re going to do is fill in all the cracks of the court, with this gold dusted resin and repaint it and try to sync it with the NBA season restarting and remind people that this is the space where everyone can come and be equal, and everyone is on the same page. I think that's really powerful and using it on top of the kintsugi veins of the court, let's bring everything back together, let’s heal all this shit, using the sport as the platform to tell that story. That's been the biggest of this little time period cause at the end of the day, it doesn't feel like the right time to make a blingy backboard, you know what I'm saying? What is the story that we’re telling to bring more awareness to the power of sport and what it can do to help bring everyone together? I think that’s what's most important right now, I’m sensitive to all that shit and this feels like a cool opportunity to really bring some positive meaning and a moment that everyone needs in their lives.
Close up process work of one of Victor's stained glass hoops.
Images from Victor's #LiterallyBalling series.