Cloth caps, rattles, Bovril, heaving crowds, balls with laces and boots that were…well, boots. All of these iconic images can be found in the paintings of Paine Proffitt, an American artist who came to Britain and fell in love with football. And we’re mighty glad he did, because Paine’s works – mostly acrylic on canvas – have been delighting fans with an appreciation of nostalgia and the sport’s earthy roots.
The son of a war correspondent with Newsweek, Paine settled in the Midlands and is now a committed Port Vale fan. It seems an unlikely marriage – you might reasonably have expected him to have attached himself to one of the more glamorous clubs as a newcomer to the game. His surroundings have certainly informed his work and reflect a love of the heritage of the working man’s favourite pastime. “The past forms an important and necessary picture of a club’s identity and football as a game,” he says. “People can look back and remember players, matches and moments – it’s all very personal and important to supporters.”
“I think I’ve always been a bit of a romantic when it comes to sports, nostalgia, memories and history, and I’ve bit into the old vintage view of the game in a big way,” he says. “I’ve always liked the style of the pre-war era, the posters, the art, the fashion, the class and style, and it’s the same with football.”
While Paine’s paintings evoke a bygone era of Saturday tea-time and the Sports Report theme buzzing in the background, at the same time, there’s also something very contemporary about them, given the fashion for anything with a whiff of “vintage” about it these days. The style of his work certainly has hints of Pablo Picasso and Tamara de Lempicka about it. There’s a trace of cubism, some Marc Chagall and the essence of Amedeo Modigliani in there, too. He calls Picasso “the greatest artist that ever lived” and sees Chagall close behind the legendary Spaniard.
Football and art can be uncomfortable bedfellows, but there have been some artists that have captured the spirit of the game perfectly. L.S. Lowry did it with his football drawings and paintings, but often, football artworks can be twee or resemble greetings cards from the 60s. At its best, though, it can be spectacular. Paine points to C.R.W. Nevinson’s “Any wintry afternoon in England” as highly influential and there are certainly similarities in the style of the two artists.
What is striking about Paine’s own work is the references he uses to underline key elements in a club’s DNA. He opts for the symbolic or representational to enhance his paintings, the result of painstaking research around stadiums, kits, players and the era he is about to feature. If supporters are involved, he seeks to capture the passion and drama of the crowd.
It is the ordinary, everyday fan that Paine identifies with, hence his patronage of Port Vale and his subjects, which include a very broad range of clubs – there’s nothing “prawn sandwich” about it! “I like the fact that the supporters of a small club have the same love and emotion for their club as one of the big boys. A lifelong Tranmere, Grimsby or Vale fan loves his club just as passionately and deeply as a United, Arsenal or Liverpool fan loves their own. There is something genuine about the less glamorous clubs, although the majesty and power of the big names also has its place – and attraction.”
Such a philosophy confirms that Paine has adopted the persona of the fan who sees the game as an important social statement. He calls today’s sport “a commercial monster” where clubs have four kits a season and players turn out for nine clubs in their career. “The idea of the past that I get is that it’s all about the personal relationship between supporters and the club, and the emotional outlet it provides for working class men.” He still sees the thread intact today, but it’s all under the cloud of corporate commercialism. “The soul of football is still there on the terraces and the supporters still connect to it. I hope the artwork touches on that emotion and connection to a club and a game.”
And it is that “connection” element that inspires people to buy Paine’s works. He has a varied clientbase, but they all tend to be passionate about their club. “I’ve found that middle-aged and older supporters buy the originals along with expatriates looking to connect with their club and ‘home’.”
Right now, Paine is trying to diversify, but he is a man in demand – the programme for the recent Italy v Ireland game at Fulham featured his work. I wasn’t at the game, but I saw someone with a copy afterwards and I knew, at a glance, who had painted the cover.
That’s probably one of the greatest compliments an artist can receive – his work being instantly recognised. It also suggests we are talking about a very unique artist…
You can see Paine Proffitt’s work at his website