Dunking Into Art
Wednesday, May 1, 2019
Desmond Mason finds colorful success off the court
Court. Canvas. Creativity.
Professional athlete and thriving artist: Together, they seem like two very different crafts. Most people will never be able to claim even one of them, but former Cowboy basketball and NBA star Desmond Mason isn’t most people.
Art has always been a constant in life for Mason. Starting at the age of 11, he knew art was something he wanted in his future.
During the last 30 years, Mason progressed through different mediums and techniques.
“I worked on a wheel doing pottery,” Mason said. “And then from pottery, I started sculpting. Then to become a better sculptor, I started drawing.”
When he didn’t have a pencil or clay in his hands, Mason could usually be found exercising his abilities on the court. Those skills got him to OSU on a basketball scholarship, but the art education he received here has taken him much further than the three-point line.
Creating a foundation
Many people remember Mason soaring through the air in Gallagher-Iba Arena on Coach Eddie Sutton’s basketball team. That time at OSU was an important step for Mason both athletically and artistically.
Mason entered OSU as an accounting major but quickly realized he needed to pursue his true passion. He knew art classes were in the future, so he focused on learning all he could with the hopes of one day being an art teacher himself.
“Art history was big because it taught me about artists that I didn’t know,” Mason said. “But the drawing side of things was important. Learning to do hyperrealism under Mark Sisson was so much fun.”
Sisson, who still teaches at OSU, remembers Mason as a dedicated hard worker in class.
“He was a really focused and passionate guy,” Sisson said. “Even though he had all of this stuff going on in his life, when he got to class he worked.”
Art as an escape
Mason continued to pursue both his athletic and artistic talents following his time at OSU. In 2000, he was drafted by the Seattle Supersonics and began a decade-long career in the National Basketball Association.
Throughout his time in the league, Mason always continued his pursuit of one day becoming a professional artist. He embraced painting and drawing as an escape from his grueling schedule of playing basketball at the highest level, including taking his portfolios on the road with him.
“It was my release,” Mason said. “It was my getaway. I knew I wanted it to be something that I was going to do after sports.”
His first big art show came when he was playing for the Milwaukee Bucks. Curious about his talent and his future at the craft, Mason invited an art critic from the Chicago Tribune to attend the show. Waiting for the review was nerve-wracking for Mason, but it ended up giving him the encouragement he needed.
“He gave me a positive review, and he was a really hard critic,” Mason said. “From then on, I was really confident in my work.”
That work has continued to expand as Mason explores different mediums to push his limits. Most recently, his art has taken a new form that’s sought after by an entirely new generation of Cowboy fans.
Building a brand
Since his early success in Milwaukee, Mason has built a following for both his artwork and his apparel design. One distinct takeaway from his paintings is the bright colors he uses throughout. Many of Mason’s early pieces were done in charcoal or pencil, but his work has evolved into explosions of color.
“If I have a choice, my stuff will always be colorful,” Mason said. “Everyone who has purchased my work loves the fact there is so much color. Whenever you want to make a wall pop, that’s what you do.”
Fans of his art have also followed Mason into the apparel scene through his partnership with 47 Brand, a door that was opened by Mason’s former OSU teammate Scott Pierce. Over the past two years, Mason has created OSU-branded hats and shirts for the company. This year, 47 Brand and Mason will be releasing more items, including beanies, socks and more.
“I knew if he was given the opportunity, Desmond would give us something unique and new,” Pierce said. “It was no surprise to me that he was able to make a really cool design.”
Mason hopes to build his brand internationally over the coming years, including shows abroad in Mexico, India, Abu Dhabi and elsewhere. He also hopes to explore an interest in photography he has developed over the years.
“I’ve always been very passionate about photography,” Mason said. “I have so many pictures. I just haven’t pulled the trigger on a show yet. I just want to grow. Constant growth.”
"Get all that stuff you have going on inside of you out. Sometimes we don't have anybody to talk to. Trust me, canvas and paper listen very well."
As Mason continues to expand his art career, he is also focused on making sure his children and other kids embrace their artistic side.
“It’s all about supporting your children and allowing them to do whatever it is that they want to do,” Mason said. “I think the biggest thing from an adult standpoint is to support the kids.”
As art is continually pulled from the curriculum in public schools, Mason believes it’s important to promote the idea of pursuing the creative arts professionally.
“It’s important to get them to understand there is a way to be successful long term creatively,” Mason said. “It is a job, and it can be a great occupation. You can do some really cool things.”
Mason wants everyone to recognize we are surrounded by art if we just know how to look for it. This includes going back to his foundation as a basketball player. He even challenged former NBA Commissioner David Stern to find something that wasn’t formed by a creative mind in the NBA game.
“The jerseys are designed. The floors are designed. The buildings are architecture. The music, the lighting, the game within itself. It’s all drawn before it’s put together,” Mason said.
Even if they don’t end up with a career in the arts, Mason wants everyone to able to use it as an outlet. Drawing from his own experience, he wants children and adults to use painting, drawing, sketching and more as therapy to get their emotions out on the page.
“Just express yourself, whatever that looks like,” Mason said. “Get all of that stuff you have going on inside of you out. Sometimes we don’t have anybody to talk to. Trust me, canvas and paper listen very well.”