For 20 years, Dick Perez served as the official artist of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and is the creator of the famous Donruss Diamond Kings baseball card series that debuted in 1982. He has painted every Hall of Famer and is at the center of the upcoming Marq Evans documentary The Diamond King, which will explore the history of baseball through the Dick Perez’s many works over the years. In this Q&A with REA, Dick outlines how he began as an artist, his unwavering love for the game of baseball, and how folks can support this tremendous film project that will combine two of his greatest passions - baseball and art.
You came to the United States from your native Puerto Rico at age six and grew up in Harlem. Who have been some of your biggest influences throughout your artistic career?
I studied and trained to be a graphic designer. When I decided to become a painter and illustrator, I taught myself. I pored over many art instruction books and discovered the works of turn-of-20th century artist John Singer Sargent. It was Sargent and painters like him, including Joaquin Sorolla, Anders Zorn and Diego Velazquez that ended up being my teachers.
You created the Donruss Diamond Kings card set that debuted in 1982 and has been beloved by hobby enthusiasts for more than 40 years. What was the thought process behind this unique series and is there a particular year or card in the series that stands out to you the most?
In 1981 the Donruss Company acquired a license to create their own baseball cards. They came to Perez-Steele Galleries to figure out a way to separate them from the other card companies. Our suggestion was to bring art back to baseball cards. The last set of baseball art cards was published in 1953. I painted Diamond Kings for 15 years. My favorite was the 1995 set, and my favorite card was Chili Davis.
Someone asks you to create a painting that depicts who you believe to be the four most important figures in baseball history. What four individuals are you putting in this one-of-a-kind work of art?
I would include Jackie Robinson, Hank Greenberg, Roberto Clemente, and Babe Ruth. The first three contributed more than their talents to baseball. They broke the color and ethnic barriers that existed. I would put Larry Doby on that list as well. He broke into baseball about a month after Jackie did and suffered the same travails. As for Babe Ruth, he was baseball's first true hero and put the game on the map.
As the official artist of the Baseball Hall of Fame for 20 years, you've had the opportunity to paint almost every Hall of Famer up to this point. What have been some of your favorite players to put on canvas?
I have rendered all of the Hall of Fame members in every medium. My favorites to paint are those with unique faces. I am fascinated by the faces of Grover Cleveland Alexander, Yogi Berra, Eddie Plank, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Ernie Lombardi, Jose Mendez, Louis Santop, Willie Stargell, and Satchel Paige. None of them are pretty, but they are beautiful to me.
As part of The Diamond King documentary project with filmmaker Marq Evans, you're making a new baseball card set that will be created from some of your existing works along with new paintings that you're currently developing. Tell us about that series, how people can get it, and what other rewards folks can obtain by donating to this project.
As part of the “Kickstarter” campaign to obtain funding for the production of the movie, one of the incentives to donate is a set of baseball cards designed and illustrated by me. Many of the players featured are players that I came to know during my career, own some of my paintings, I have admiration for, or wish I had the opportunity to have met, like Babe Ruth. Other incentives include a video of the film, an Aaron Judge print, an original Ohtani painting, and few other things. You can donate to the Kickstarter campaign here.
Dick Perez and Marq Evans will be at the REA booth during the National Sports Collectors Convention which runs from July 26-30 in Chicago. Several of Dick’s paintings will also be featured in REA’s Summer Catalog Auction that runs from July 24 to August 13.