4 Local Artists Speak on Their Creative Contributions to Chase Center

BY BRANDON YU | September 23, 2019 | Culture

Warriors forge a unique partnership with local artists and SFMOMA to present public pieces.

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Nina Fabunmi’s painting “Do It for the Bay” will be featured at Chase Center.

Warriors Team President Rick Welts envisioned more than an entertainment venue when he pictured Chase Center—he saw a pristine home to public art. Now, guests of the new arena will see that vision come to fruition as they enter its doors to find a diverse tapestry of artworks adorning all surfaces, both within and around Chase Center. From high-prized art to a host of works from local artists, the impressive collection will leave visitors wondering whether they’re really in a fine art gallery.

At the West Entrance Lobby, Alexander Calder’s metal mobile, “Untitled,” hovers from the ceiling, while Isamu Noguchi’s “Play Sculpture” sits in the outer plaza at Thrive City, Chase Center’s surrounding outdoor area. The two pieces are on loan as part of a unique collaboration with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which also includes two commissioned works in the arena created by local artists David Huffman and Hughen/Starkweather. “This type of partnership is something that’s never been done,” says Welts.

Much of the arena’s public art, though, was created by Bay Area artists. The club spaces in the arena feature local works acquired by the JPMorgan Chase Art Collection—the firm’s decades-old corporate art collection—many created by artists from Oakland’s Creative Growth Art Center, a historic nonprofit dedicated to artists with developmental, mental and physical disabilities.

The most ubiquitous artworks are from the Chase Center Art Collection presented by Adobe—a set organized by Sports & the Arts, a company that commissions artwork for major sports venues (previous SATA collections include Levi’s Stadium and Yankee Stadium). Following an open call for submissions, a lineup of 33 artists—more than half of whom are from or based in the Bay Area—created hundreds of original pieces of art, photography and graphic wall treatments.

“There’s that typical ‘sports art’—that’s not what we’re doing,” says SATA founder Tracie Speca-Ventura. “We’re doing fine art, and they just happen to be depicting sport and athletes.”

Some works were created by revered artists, such as Bart Forbes, while many others come from those who have been more behind the scenes in the local arts community for years. Together, they comprise an eclectic collection, in form and content, that offers a comprehensive panorama of the team, the Bay Area and, for many local artists, a complicated feeling on the upcoming move. Four Bay Area artists in the collection speak about creating unique artworks enshrined in the new arena and what the Warriors’ transition means for them.

Nina Fabunmi

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When San Francisco-based artist Nina Fabunmi was selected as part of the SATA collection, Speca-Ventura asked her to create a work that centered on the fans. Painted with a palette knife, “Do It for the Bay” offers a close-up portrait of a collection of Dubs faithful cheering on the team midgame.

“I actually really wanted to capture emotion and diversity,” Fabunmi says, “and I wanted to show the amount of excitement that the Warriors build in a game.”

The portrait celebrates what she sees as the vital role that fans play in every Warriors contest. “I want them to know when you are in a Warriors game, you become a part of the game, a huge part of it,” she says.

The crowd notably consists of a mix of characters—a reflection of the multihued faces of the Warriors’ fan base.

That diversity is a result of a fan base cultivated within all corners of the Bay Area, and the work can serve as a clarion call to unite for the team, regardless of city lines. The title of the piece came from what Fabunmi sees as the focal point of the painting, a man in the middle of the cheering crowd. He’s racially ambiguous, Fabunmi says—and he might be from any part of the Bay. His shirt, though, states a kind of motto: “Do It for the Bay.”

“We’re all Bay Area, regardless of where they choose to build the Chase Center,” Fabunmi says. “‘Do it for the Bay’ means it’s all-inclusive. We’re all part of it.”

Daniel Chen

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Only those truly acquainted with San Francisco’s Chinatown will be able to decipher the triptych Daniel Chen created.

“You kind of really have to know [Chinatown] to be able to decipher the image,” says Chen, who grew up in the city. “It’s a very specific street corner. It’s like the corner store where I used to buy cigarettes in high school—you just go into Chinatown. And down the block is the place I used to buy nunchucks and brass knuckles.”

In A Stroll Down Memory Lane, the trio of paintings combines to create a pixelated snapshot of Chinatown.

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Chinatown’s lanterns aloft in San Francisco artist Daniel Chen’s series A Stroll Down Memory Lane

“It’s like one of the last places where, for me, when I go there, nothing’s really changed,” he says. “I can still go to my favorite old bar. All the restaurants are still family, Chinese-owned.” Chen’s pieces pay homage to what he refers to as a final stronghold of original San Francisco.

Yet the picture is distorted by its blurry rendering, a style of Chen’s that reflects our modern view of the world, increasingly seen through the lens of digital imagery and technology. Tech has been a “boon” for the city, Chen qualifies, but the particularly stark symbolism of his painting—a digitally filtered portrait of an unchanged district being hung in a luxurious new stadium in San Francisco—is not lost on him.

His presence in Chase Center, along with that of other local artists, he notes, point to an earnest, meaningful connection to the community. The collection could have easily been populated by artists plucked out of notable galleries, he notes. “For them to take a chance on me,” Chen says, trailing off. “I was small-time.”

Milton Bowens

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For Milton Bowens, an Oakland born-and-bred artist and lifelong Warriors fan, creating work for the team is the manifestation of a childhood dream.

“This is a career achievement that I think supersedes everything,” says Bowens, whose works are collected by the likes of LeBron James and Michael Jordan, and who was also part of Levi’s Stadium’s SATA collection.

His two paintings, “Chase Your Dreams” and “You Already Know What Time It Is,” reflect a Warriors pride that is informed by the long view. He summarizes the team’s migratory patterns: starting in San Francisco, followed by stints in San Diego and San Jose, before taking root in Oakland.

“They’re just moving home,” Bowens says. “I understand the history of the franchise, and I wanted to basically tell that story in a series of paintings.”

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Artist Milton Bowens’ “You Already Know What Time It Is” offers the painter’s take on the Warrior’s cross-Bay exodus.

In the paintings, pieces he describes as mixed media assemblage, the shared history espouses a unifying tone: the “415” area code combines with the “510”; a BART car joins with a cable car. “If you are a Warriors fan, you are a Golden State Warriors fan,” he says. “You’re not an Oakland Warriors fan, or you’re not a San Francisco Warriors fan.”

Bowens refers to his childhood, his daily journey to school every morning, checking the time from the clock on the iconic Tribune Tower in downtown Oakland. The tower looms large in “You Already Know,” where the clock is instead occupied by the Warriors logo—a symbolic message, as the past season felt for some like a countdown to the departure from Oakland.

“The clock can expire, but there’s still going to be the Warriors, wherever they land, wherever they resurface,” Bowens says. “I just look at it as the end of a quarter. I don’t look at it as anything else. And I’m just waiting for the next quarter to start.”

Shomari Smith

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Among the host of art featured at Chase Center, the single necessity might be to have some creative homage paid to the players themselves. Appropriately, each of Shomari Smith’s five pieces provides a dynamic portrait of the “Hamptons Five” (aka the “Death Lineup”): Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala.

“I honestly believe that they’re the greatest starting five to ever touch an NBA court,” says Smith, an Oakland-based artist.

The works, created from pen and ink, have graffitilike etchings within their features, paying tribute to their achievements and origins.

“They’re all a great example of hard work, family men,” Smith says. “They’re all different and bring different things to the combination of the five.”

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A graffitilike portrait of Draymond Green by artist Shomari Smith

Smith speaks of the portraits largely through the lens of his 10-year-old son, seeing the players as role models, individually and as a unit, for youth in the community. “The inspiration behind the work was totally from their gameplay and the teamwork, all these things I try to teach my son, about working together, working hard,” says Smith. “One guy is not trying to outshine the other four, and that can be a great lesson just in life.”

Smith says his son has struggled with the Warriors move, feeling as if they have left Oakland fans. But as the Warriors prepare for a new chapter at Chase, Smith’s portraits hang for all fans to see. Smith’s own feelings, then, are bittersweet.

The players’ impact, though, remains. “When you talk about what sports can do for a community, it’s pretty amazing how you can inspire a child, how you can get up in the morning for work feeling a little bit better because you’ve got a winning franchise,” Smith says. “It brings people together.”



Photography by: FABUNMI ARTWORK PHOTO COURTESY OF NINA FABUNMI; ALL COURTESY CHASE CENTER AND CHASE CENTER ART COLLECTION PRESENTED BY ADOBE