Australia is a proven hotspot for basketball talent, but a new generation of creatives is working with the NBA in a whole new way. Homecourt speaks to three Australian artists who have worked with the big leagues, or are well on their way.
This feature is presented by Foot Locker Australia House Of Hoops.
We’re only 20 years into the century, but the 2-0s have been good to Australians with big-league aspirations. Lauren and Liz in the WNBA. Bogut, Ben and the Bala Patty Mills in the NBA. There’s a buzz in the driveways, rec centers and school playgrounds scattered across the suburbs of Australia. If your skillset is sharp enough, it feels like anything is possible. Australia is now just as legitimate a breeding ground for talent as Southern California or Uptown Manhattan.
We’re not just contributing on the court though. A handful of talented locals have ascended the ranks in their own way, forging a path to the pro leagues without having to hone their own lockdown defence or wicked jump shot.
In a world where digital content has taken on increasing importance, visual artists have become a key contributor to the way we engage with basketball content. An example is the new Vince Carter career retrospective – which features work from two Australian artists – in which the NBA chose to put fan-made art and design front and centre in a celebration of Vinsanity.
Homecourt spoke to three Australian artists to discover how they got to where they are, and where they’re trying to go next.
“I’ve always put the work first and really treated it like basketball,” says Andrew Archer, a visual artist based in Melbourne. “It’s easy to see art as something which is reserved for purely the talented but I really do think there’s a place for those who put in the hours. The combination of hard work, passion for the craft and sustained perseverance is an unstoppable combo and is really how a lot of opportunities came about. Sprinkle in a little magic of the internet and your work can land in front of people you’d never expect.”
He’s not a motivational speaker (yet?) but Archer is out here dropping gems like he pulled off a jewel heist. The Melbourne-based artist balances his work – which includes the NBA and Nike among others – with his cultural side-project Edo Ball, which he started in 2013 as a means of connecting his passions of travel, passion and basketball.
“At its core its a mix of Japanese and Western pop culture and draws inspiration from Edo period Ukiyo-e art,” Archer explains. “Ukiyo-e was really about observing and documenting the everyday life of actors, people and everyday life and one day it just clicked – there were so many overlapping ideas and ways to merge parts of the Ukiyo-e visual aesthetic with contemporary pop culture, people and community. The series is now 4 seasons deep with over 50 artworks, a book, and a handful of privately crafted works for NBA players.”
Archer credits a mixture of passion and grind with getting him where he’s at today, and passes on similar advice to anyone trying to follow a similar path. “NBA players put up hundreds of shots every day without the cameras – this is how I’ve always approached creating my work. Put in the work and recognise every failure is an opportunity to learn and better yourself. Your energy will bring the people, brands and opportunities to you eventually.”
Melbourne artist YihTak Wong started out with old fashioned pen and paper, sketching his favourite NBA stars as a kid. From there, he started designing desktop wallpapers – again starring NBA players – and started turning heads online. He joined a crew called Posterizes with fellow Aussie Tyson Beck, and things began to accelerate from there.
“My break came when one of the artists in Posterizes had to forego a job from SLAM magazine,” he explains. “I took the job in his stead. The task was to create a New Orleans-themed All-Star banner for SLAM magazine’s 2014 All-Star content. The senior editor at the time also noticed a few desktop wallpapers I had created on Posterizes and was kind enough to feature them on their site’s wallpaper section. Several months later, I got the call from the NBA to provide two opening graphics to kick off the 2014 – 2015 season, along with the submissions from other artists who were contacted. I was fortunate enough to end up in the final pool of artists to work on graphics for the remainder of the season.”
Like Andrew Archer, YihTak has worked with the NBA, and also Puma. A sneaker head from a young age, it seems Wong is in living the dream right now. “Basketball was my first love,” he clarifies. “I grew up watching the NBA. Grant Hill was the very first NBA player I enjoyed watching, he had such an explosive game. Before I knew it, I ended up copping my first the Fila GH1s, which became my first pair of basketball shoes in high school. It wasn’t long before I started watching Jordan and the Bulls when they were midway through their 2nd three-peat. The Air Jordan 12 in the white / taxi colourway became my first pair of Jordans. My love for sneakers was born out of my love for the game of basketball.”
Wong utilised social media as a means of finding like-minded creatives and also to amplify his work. But when asked what advice he can pass on to aspiring creatives he is quick to specify social platforms can be a tool, but shouldn’t be dictating the way you work. “Don’t let the success of your peers on social media intimidate you,” he says. “Focus on becoming the artist you want to be, fueled by the things which you are most passionate about. Keep sharing your work, even if it is not perfect, because the feedback you get will nudge you in the right direction. Also, you may never know who is keeping tabs on your work.”
Adelaide’s Iman Elmawey has a whole different flavour to her work. While Andrew and Yihtak work almost exclusively in the digital realm, Iman only finds herself plugging in as a means of preparation before getting busy with the old-fashioned tools and creating by hand.
Basketball is just a part of what inspired Iman to create. The artist tells us the whole damn cultural explosion of the ‘90s is – not surprisingly – a big influence on her work. “Whether it’s the music or the fashion, it’s just an era that I wish I got to experience more,” she says. “I grew up with three brothers, so I grew up around basketball. Watching games with them, never understanding what was happening but loving the atmosphere of it. I loved the culture around basketball. The players and the fashion, on and off court, was wicked. It’s something that I’ve adapted into my work and into my own personal style.”
The music of the ‘90s is also a big inspiration. While Iman is too young to have experienced Boyz II Men, OutKast or Lauryn Hill at their peak, their music lives on and inspires her to create in 2020.
Iman is just beginning to get her work noticed, but is well aware of a groundswell in Australian talent earning the attention of the rest of the world. “We might be all the way down under but there’s definitely a lot of talent here,” she says. “I think social media helped a lot in getting our creativity recognised. It’s so much easier to reach out to these companies and brands through even just one Instagram post. As creatives, we are able to reach so high through social media. It’s so easy to find people that want you to produce a piece of art or design, purely by seeing and really connecting with your feed and your creativity.”