Athletes are larger than life in the works of this American artist

Sports pop culture is sometimes not a choice. It’s an osmotic inspiration, a unique substance composed of wrestling, major American sports, and big-name soccer, which settles under the skin and then gets expressed through creativity. With a background between Seattle and Florence, contemporary painter Julian Pace creates unmistakable work for its broad shoulders and altered faces and bodies. They are a reflection of his experiences, of larger-than-life athletes, as he calls them: they are revivals and reworkings of sportspeople who have become global icons.

“The root of my relationship with art goes back a long way. Everywhere I went, I always had a pencil and paper with me. My grandmother and aunt always encouraged my artistic side. My father lived in Florence, so I’d leave the States every summer and cross the big blue sea to visit him. I brought my skateboard and drawing stuff with me. That was it. I was always interested in different things, and my family used to tease me about that. In terms of sports, I was influenced by my older brothers and Italy, so soccer has always played a big role in my life. I couldn’t go to Fiorentina matches because my father said they were too dangerous, but I was a fan. And I hated Juventus. I remember having a lot of jerseys and loving Baggio and the original Ronaldo. I have always been drawn to these figures who could transcend the confines of sport, becoming larger than life. And this comes through in my art.”

The Italian of America. The American of Italy. Julian’s adolescent and existential dualism is the gateway to a composite culture, both traditional and progressive. Calcio Fiorentino and Hulk Hogan. MLB fans and European ultras. Egon Schiele, Chuck Close, and contemporary Internet art. Everything is part of the artist’s uncharacteristic philosophy of the two worlds; anything can transform into a vision, an extemporaneous sketch dedicated to the vast sports circus and its global reach, propelled by irrational economic logic to irrepressible personalities.

“Many of my subjects emerge instinctively. They’re inside me, in the Mariners and Sonics games I used to go to, the WWE TV shows, the old sponsors that featured soccer jerseys, my parents’ college experiences. Just by looking back, I can see where these sources of inspiration come from. I know I’m working with pop culture, but I don’t feel like a pop artist. I don’t like to categorize myself. It’s true that pop and sports cultures, have nourished me throughout my life, and it’s natural that my paintings connect to that. The nostalgic component is not necessarily part of this process. Let’s say it all started almost as a joke, including the broad shoulders that make my portraits so distinctive. One day, I was drawing Dennis Rodman and a friend said I’d given him skinny shoulders. So I made them bigger, way bigger. I thought it was actually an interesting look, so I started using it on larger-scale works as well. Personal style is born out of mistakes, you know? Today, I like that the audience in my paintings can see collector’s cards with ridiculous proportions. They are incredible, colossal figures still connected to the imagery of trading cards. The viewer becomes a child again by losing himself in these figures.”

Julian Pace’s artistic explosion was late in the making; he became a full-fledged artist only in 2021, giving up a career in bartending. His work is inspiring in art, sports, and the fashion world. This is clearly shown, for example, through his relationship with the Rowing Blazers brand and its founder, Jack Carlson, who we had the opportunity to interview. Julian’s rise continues to be meteoric, but he’s conscious of a freedom he was long denied: the ability to live life through personal expression.

“I’ve absorbed and am still trying to absorb as much as I can in art, from a perspective of techniques, materials, etc.,” concludes the American who, in the coming months, will return to his second homeland in Italy. “Today, I am lucky to focus only on art, and I’m surrounded by so many inspiring people who continually help me evolve. I’ve always believed I could focus on art, but only in the last few years have things truly changed. I feel this frantic energy inside of me; I want to learn and grow. I’m going with the flow, so I haven’t got any definite plans for the future. Right now, I’m motivated and ambitious. I feel something burning inside, and I hope to keep it that way.”