Hitting Home
Categories: art, living

Breaking the Rules of the Game to Become American: Duane Corey’s Shadow Ball in Jasper’s Town

By: Michelina Docimo

Sitting on Top of the World, 20x16, Acrylic on Canvas, Depicting Josh Gibson as Royalty or "The Black Babe Ruth," painting by Duane Corey

I’ve never watched a baseball game in its entirety; it always felt so foreign to me – all those hand gestures.  I couldn’t bring myself to sit through nine innings of this great American pastime without staring at a clock, wondering when is this going to end.  It felt more like watching multiple murder trials, one after another after another, torture and tension in the air, not a summer breeze.  I never would have imagined I would be writing about baseball, but when the sport presented itself in the form of art, I started to understand.  Duane Corey, self-taught artist, sheds light on the game, its history, and social significance in his current exhibition, Shadow Ball in Jasper’s Town.

Corey, born in the rural south from a line of slaves and sharecroppers, grew up in segregation with limited life expectations, until his parents decided to migrate north for better opportunities.  Settling in Bridgeport, CT, his parents made sacrifices to improve the family’s lot, working multiple factory jobs.  It was an industrious time when one could walk across the street, inquire for a job, and start working that afternoon.  Bridgeport was brimming with factories, especially of artillery parts like Remington Arms, thus the city’s nickname “Arsenal of Democracy.”

As a child, Corey played in the little leagues and fondly recalls carefree days attending baseball games with his father and friends, “a male-bonding experience”, he calls it.  His first love, baseball had a special place in his heart so it felt natural to Corey when he started experimenting with art that signs of the game started to emerge.  Images of the Sistine Chapel inspired Corey even though he has never had the chance to see Michelangelo’s art in person.  Completely in awe that human imagination, eye, and hand could create something so beautiful, he wanted and needed to do the same with his life, so began his humble journey into art.

Shadow Ball in Jasper’s Town combines Corey’s two loves of art and baseball.  His paintings are narrative in nature and tell stories within hidden stories of human struggle, especially those of African Americans and immigrants.  Corey’s paintings are vibrant in primary colors and geometric in form with unexpected brushstroke splashes that slide out of lines.  His purpose is to bring viewers back to their childhood to happier times of easygoing Sundays watching the game.  At the same time, he weaves very adult themes of breaking down racial barriers and the pressures of trying to succeed in the American dream.

Many immigrant and African American children and adults embraced baseball as a way to Americanize themselves socially.  “Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Lou Gehrig, Cal Abrams, Yogi Bera, Hank Aaron – all major contributors to the greatness of baseball, all considered minorities, whether African American, Italian, Jewish, or German.  Just as many of these immigrants succeeded in sports, there were many immigrants in Bridgeport’s political arena, like P.T. Barnum, Igor Sigorski, and Jasper McLevy that made tremendous contributions to the growth of the city,”  says Corey.

Jasper McLevy enjoyed a lengthy mayoral term in Bridgeport from 1933 till 1957.  He successfully saw the city through the Great Depression with socialist reform, including collective economics, pro-immigration support, and intense financial supervision of spending which resulted in a positive balance sheet.  These ideas are still met with opposition today throughout America as President Obama struggles in similar social and economic waters.   Corey draws parallels between sports and politics in his paintings as equalizing forces that level the playing field.

Shadow Ball in Jasper's Town, 36x48, Acrylic on Canvas, by Duane Corey

Corey’s paintings are colorful historical depictions, honoring some of the greatest baseball players in the Negro League and Bridgeport.  Recognizable brands like Wonder Bread and Coca Cola sponsor ads hanging on the stadium walls contribute to the Americana nostalgia.  The background, just as important as the foreground, sets the stage with smokestacks and a locomotive, Bridgeport iconography.  The clown in this painting is not only a tribute to P.T. Barnum’s circus success, but Corey explains that often during game, the Negro players would pantomime and put on shows similar to the Harlem Globetrotters to keep the audiences entertained and wanting more.

Shadow Ball in Jasper’s Town celebrates American history and its social triumphs of integration through baseball.   Corey has spent months researching facts, figures, and headlines like a true baseball fanatic, but ultimately as an artist he stirs emotions of patriotism in both past and present trying times.  Corey reflects, “As adults we often struggle in reconciling the loss of innocence and often don’t live in the present; we either dwell on our past or plan for a future that may not play out the way we intended.  In my work, I merge these two parts of the psyche – the child and the adult.  I challenge individuals to cope with life’s curveballs or whatever is pitched to them, but to still believe in the team.  This is what life is about, to accept the unexpected.”

Shadow Ball in Jasper’s Town, October 18 – 25, 2010

Lukacs Gallery, Fairfield University, in Loyola Hall

1073 N. Benson Road, Fairfield, CT

Artist Contact:

Duane Corey

Duane Corey has generously donated the Shadow Ball in Jasper’s Town paintings to the Bridgeport Public Library and will be on display as part of their permanent collection.

Bridgeport USA, 12x12, Acrylic on Canvas, Baseball Still Life by Duane Corey

“I don’t love baseball.  I don’t love most of today’s players.  I don’t love the owners.  I do love, however, the baseball that is in the heads of baseball fans.  I love the dreams of glory of 10-year-olds, the reminiscences of 70-year-olds.  The greatest baseball arena is in our heads, what we bring to the games, to the telecasts, to reading newspaper reports.  ~Stan Isaacs, “Diamond-Studded Memories,” Newsday, 9 April 1990


3 Comments to “Hitting Home”

  1. I loved baseball games, growing up, when the players were all hometown fellows…These paintings take me back to that and I thank you, both artist and writer.

  2. Impacted Wisdom Teeth says:

    My brother and I love baseball. Thanks for this post, it helped us both out.

  3. Good post … I love this site…Thanks

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