Tony Harris tells the story of illicitly drawing constant Tony Espositos when he should have been taking notes as a school kid in Lakefield, Ontario: that’s where his career as an artist started. Today, Harris, who’s 49, ranks as one of Canada’s foremost painters of athletes as well as the landscapes they inhabit. His early Espositoing had a practical side, too: Harris was a young goaltender himself, who went on to play in the OHL for the Kingston Canadians in the 1980s. As a hockey painter, his subjects have included Roger Nielson, Ted Lindsay, Zdeno Chara, Chris Phillips, and Daniel Alfredsson, among many others — no further Espositos, yet.
His latest NHL commission came back before Christmas when Vancouver got in touch about Henrik Sedin. “It has to be a good portrait,” Harris was saying this week from his studio in Ottawa, “that’s the first thing I think about. Take away the hockey, out of the rink, is it a good likeness? I want the player to look like he could step out of the painting and engage you.” He prefers to paint a player in repose, he’s said, “between whistles,” rather than in mid-slapshot, “so there’s a little bit of attitude, a little bit of thought of what’s going to happen next.” The Sedin portrait, he estimates, was 75 hours in the making. A week after he’d finished, in mid-March, Harris flew it west, framed if not completely dried. Henrik, who’s 33 and scarce minutes older than his twin, Daniel, played his 1,000th NHL game in Winnipeg on March 12.
In a ceremony on March 23, before a home game against Buffalo, Harris watched from a high Rogers Arena box as the Canucks’ marked the occasion in a pre-game ceremony in which the portrait was unveiled. The night ended with good news: the Canucks won the game, 4-2, though not before Henrik had to leave, in the second period, with an injured leg. “I went to hit a guy and he came back off the boards and he fell on top of me, so we’ll see how it is tomorrow,” he told reporters after the game. “I’m not declaring anything. We’ll see how it feels tomorrow and go from there.”
A later word was that he’d be off the ice for about two weeks.
To see more of Tony Harris’ lucent work, visit http://thfineart.ca.