Saturday, April 19, 2014


It's rare for Ben Sakoguchi to insert an "asynchronous" popular culture reference into his baseball paintings. (If you're just joining us, these are also known as The Unauthorized History of Baseball and there are fifty-four of them currently on display in the Baseball Reliquary's "Purpose Pitch" exhibition--through April 29--at the Arcadia Public Library).

By "asynchronous," we mean a reference that is significantly displaced from the time frame of the event being depicted, or from the life and times of the subject. Usually these are rather tightly aligned, but here, in Man in Black Brand, Ben ties pioneering African-American umpire Emmett Ashford (whose "historical moment" occurred in the mid-1960s) with a fanciful, post-integration comedy-action film franchise (Men in Black) starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones.

Ben is doubly playful here. "Man in Black" refers both to the hue of Mr. Ashford's skin and to the color of his uniform.

Ben also captures the flamboyant nature of Mr. Ashford's approach to his work, which was occasionally derided in the press.

Some fifty years hence, however, we only remember his pioneering spirit and his enthusiastic exuberance for his chosen line of work.

Ben matches that exuberance with his own flamboyant use of color, a dynamic sense of composition, and an eye-catching use of the airbrush.

Place name check: Ben continues to delight in the arcane and forgotten locations in California. Black Diamond is a community that no longer exists, being the original name for the town in the northern portion of the East Bay that is now called Pittsburg. Its only remnant, as you'll see if you visit the Facebook page devoted to it, is one of the town's main thoroughfares, which is named Black Diamond Blvd.