game faces: anthony jenkins’ rink renditions

Habtop: Anthony Jenkins’ portrait of Rocket Richard adorns a vintage Eagle table-top hockey game.

“I’m an artist, a hockey fan, and a (fading) hockey player.” That’s how Anthony Jenkins describes himself these days. If you press him a bit on the artistry, he might add that, for all the painting that he does up near Orangeville, Ontario, where he lives, he doesn’t necessarily think of himself as a painter. “I’m kind of more of a drawer who paints,” he told me recently.

If his style seems familiar, it might be that you’re a regular Globe and Mail reader. For 39 years, Jenkins  was on staff at the Toronto newspaper as an award-winning editorial cartoonist, illustrator, and sometime writer.

The scope and charm of his post-Globe oeuvre is on display at his website, over this way. For hockey fans, that’s also the best place to get to know and marvel at Jenkins’ collection of portraits of NHL Hall-of-Famers for which he uses working table hockey games for a canvas.  

“My ‘Game Face’ series of paintings are intended as a homage to the idols of my youth,” he says of the ongoing anthology that he started in about 15 years ago. Subjects to date have included Guy Lafleur and Gump Worsley, Tim Horton, Wendel Clark, and Auston Matthews. His preferred canvas might be the old Eagle table-hockey game from the 1960s, but he also frequently works with Stiga games, which are Swedish-made. As far as he can determine, Stiga is the only manufacturer still producing table-hockey rinks on any scale.

Several of Jenkins’ hockey portraits have featured in gallery shows, including in 2019 at a hockey-minded exhibition at the Michael Gibson Gallery in London, Ontario, that also included etchings by Peter Doig, the photographs of Diana Thorneycroft, and paintings by former Hockey in Night Canada broadcaster Brian McFarlane.

Some of those same works of Jenkins’ are available for sale (see, again, his website); he’s also glad, he says, to take on commissions, whether the subject excelled on NHL ice or is someone you know (aor are) who laces up to chase late-night beer-league pucks.

Earlier this year, Anthony Jenkins was good enough to collaborate on a Puckstruck Q+A. Our conversation, edited and condensed, is reflected in these answers to my questions.

On his background, in hockey and art:

I grew up in Toronto, Scarborough, played hockey as a young boy. I wasn’t particularly good. My first team was Baby Bunny Nuts — sounds pretty ferocious, doesn’t it? They were a firm that had hot-nut machines in grocery stores … so I played for Baby Bunny Nuts for a year.

I always wanted to be an artist and ended up being a cartoonist and later on, an artist. I dropped away from playing hockey and picked it up again as an adult. I’ve played pick-up hockey for years since.

Leafly: Jenkins’ own Auston Matthews.

On matching hockey portraits with hockey games:

The hockey game thing — I guess a friend of mine was painting on various kinds of toys and games, and one of them was a little tiny, almost palm-of-your-hand-sized, hockey game.

And so it dawned on me — I was familiar with the big hockey games, because I played them as avidly as a boy, and even in university. I thought, if you stand this upright, it’s a natural frame — I’m going to paint something on there.

I’m a face guy — I love painting faces — so I thought I’ll paint a hockey player on there. And then I found out: not so easy. Because your canvas has got slots and spikes sticking out of it, with mobile players. So it was more of a challenge to get an interesting pose that the slots didn’t interfere with. And that’s where the most work is, laying that out, designing how you’re going to paint it. Then once you do that, on goes the portrait.

I’d say I’ve done 30, at least. Mostly I just do them and then try and show them and sell them. Sometimes people call me and I’ll do commissions of their favourite guy: can you do a Gump Worsley? Absolutely. They’re a quirky thing, because, you know, most people wouldn’t put him on the living-room wall … it’s more of a man-cave thing. Some people can take them or leave them, but the people who like them, like them a lot. I like them a lot.

On materials and methods:

As far as I’m aware, Stiga is the only company still making table hockey games. I grew up in the as a kid in the ’60s, so I knew that the old Eagle games with the flat metal players. I’ve still got a few of them up on my bookcase, just as a memory. You can still get them on eBay, but they’re really hard to find, and they’re expensive.

The Gretzky games are from the ’80s, so the next generation, and they’re a little bit easier to find. I like them in that they’re big and solid, and they’re very white, so they’re the easiest for me to paint on. The Rocket one I painted, that’s the kind of game I had as a kid. I’ve done a couple of those, and they’re really quite nice.

Hull Yes: The Golden Brett in his St. Louis heyday.

On process:

What I do is I tape the rods up, inside, using hockey tape, so they can’t slip out. Otherwise a three-foot game becomes a six-foot game.

So they’re all taped in place. And the players come off and then I just start painting over top. I’ll paint out the area I need in white — I’m getting rid of lines and circles — and then I do a line drawing in grease pencil, because you’re drawing on plastic and a grease pencil works best. And then I paint over top of that. And then one thing I’m proud of doing is, I don’t just want to paint the player on the game, I want to integrate him, so I paint a lot of the lines and circles and ice insignia back into the image, so it looks like he’s kind of emerging from the game.

I paint in acrylic, which dries more quickly. It’s quite bright, too. And the idea is, what I trying to do, I’m not trying to reproduce a photograph. So the skin colour isn’t pink, and (say) the Leafs’ blue jersey is not just blue, I’ll get in some turquoise and some pink, and other shades. So, just visually, it’s interesting as well. I mean, it is a painting. It’s more than hockey memorabilia: it’s art.

Putting actual paint on the surface, it takes maybe 12 or 15 hours. Then you’ve got to factor in, I’ve got to go online and find the game, get it, then an hour or two (or more) just kind of plotting the layout, which is the hardest part.

It’s not necessarily the most creative part, but it’s the most important part. I mean, when I first started doing it, I thought, this is great. Then I’d paint a player onto the game and there’d be one of the game-rods sticking out of his eyeball, so I’ve just wasted 15 hours. I learned: planning is key. 

Flower Arrangement: Guy Lafleur in bloom.

On Gump and JC:

The commissions have largely been of Toronto Maple Leafs. At first, I did strictly Hall of Famers I revered as a boy, Howe, Rocket, people like that, Tim Horton. And then later on, when the commissions came in, they were often people who’d end up in the Hall, like Yzerman. And then sometimes the oddball, like Gump. He was a character beyond hockey, of course. 

I have one of Christ in a Leafs’ jersey. I forget what prompted that one, but it’s called “Jesus, we lost again?”

It was polarizing. I had one show, in Etobicoke, I had two or three paintings there, including the Jesus one. And very quickly, the gallery curator said, We’ve got to take it down, we’ve got some complaints. I asked why, and it was, well, it’s blasphemous, mocking Christ. Well, no, I wasn’t. But it came down.

And then within a year, I was showing the same painting in Collingwood. They had a  contest and I was up there and it turns out I won it. The judges said that they liked the physical application of paint, but they also liked the idea and the sheer bravery. So they got it. It’s a satire, or a sympathy, with suffering Leaf fans, not at all mocking anything.

Defining himself:

There are painters … I’m kind of more of a drawer who paints. Painters, they start off with a pink blob, and then they refine the details, refine the details, until all of a sudden it looks like me or you. I do a drawing and then kind of paint it out and paint down until it doesn’t look like a drawing, it looks like a painting. So I’m kind of doing it in reverse. It works for me. 

Selfie: Portrait of the artist, by same.

legends woe

Bench Strength: The Leafs laid flowers this afternoon in honour of their departed captain. The legendary Leafs represented here are, from the left, Darryl Sittler, Ted Kennedy, Syl Apps, Wendel Clark, Dave Keon, Armstrong, Johnny Bower, and Turk Broda.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are paying tribute today to former captain George Armstrong, following the announcement of his death early on Sunday at the age of 90. With the modern-day edition of the team in action in Calgary, Armstrong’s likeness is fronting Scotiabank Arena in Toronto this afternoon, and the team laid flowers in front of his likeness on Legends Row. Nobody has played more games for the Leafs than Armstrong, who captained the team for 12 years and led them to four Stanley Cups.

noshing (no more) with 99

Say your so longs to Grandma Gretzky’s Perogies, get your goodbyes in for WGS Plant Based Vegan Caesar Salad: after 27 years, Wayne Gretzky’s own Toronto flagship restaurant is closing today for good. A condo development (of course) will rise in its downtown stead.

I was only ever there once, in — wait, now — 1994? Wayne was on hand himself, I wish I could say he was manning the stoves, but no, it was a book launch, for Jim Taylor’s Wayne Gretzky: The Authorized Pictorial Biography. I talked to Taylor, who was friendly, and to Wayne’s dad, Walter, who was friendlier. There was no getting near the then-Great One: like the appetizers, he was besieged as soon as he appeared.

The restaurant had opened a year earlier, down on what used to be Peter Street, just north of the used-to-be-SkyDome, in the year-of-our-Lord-the-Blue-Jays-won-a-second-straight-World Series. Back then, of course, the local hockey team was still at home uptown, at Maple Leaf Gardens. The restaurant debuted in July of 1993 with the intent (as WG’s website explained right up to the end) of striving “to honour this Canadian Hockey Hall of Famer by creating a dining experience with Gretzky’s greatness in mind.”

The gall. That same spring, Gretzky had taken a break as a fine-dining impresario to join the Los Angeles Kings in their quest for the Stanley Cup. Against Toronto in the Campbell Conference Final, Gretzky escaped justice in the sixth game of the series when he high-sticked Leaf captain Doug Gilmour and failed to surrender himself after referee Kerry Fraser missed the call. Maybe you don’t remember; Toronto will never forget.

The Kings won that game, in overtime, on a goal of Gretzky’s. He had a say in the deciding game, too, scoring a hattrick as the Kings dismissed the Leafs 5-4 to win the series and advance to their first Stanley Cup Final.

How did Toronto forgive #99 his trespass? It’s hard to remember. Somehow. Gretzky’s opened a month after the Kings ceded the Cup to the Montreal Canadiens over the course of five games, so I guess there’s that.

It wasn’t just Gretzky, of course, who made the restaurant happen, he was just a partner, and the brand. The Bitoves were the majority owners; there was talk, too, that they were after an NBA franchise. In August, not long after the restaurant opened, Globe and Mail sportswriter William Houston dropped by.  He came out unimpressed. “The food was mediocre and the service slow,” he griped in the paper. “It took 35 minutes to get a ‘King’s Clubhouse.’ When it arrived the French fries were soggy and cold — not even tepid, but chilly.”

Houston was all over the story of the restaurant that month: he also broke the news that the first question prospective WG’s employees were asked when they came in for an interview was, “What does Wayne Gretzky mean to you?”

Wayne and his wife Janet were on hand for the grand opening in September, and so too was a forgiving Gilmour. His Toronto teammate Wendel Clark showed up, too, as did Gretzky’s old Oilers pal Paul Coffey, a Detroit Red Wing by then, along with future Leaf president Brendan Shanahan, still toiling on the ice in those years as a winger with the St. Louis Blues. Vladislav Tretiak came, and Alanis Morissette, and Toronto’s mayor, June Rowlands.

What else?

It’s worth noting, maybe, that Gilmour opened his own restaurant that same fall, Gardoonies, not far from the rink where he worked his day job.  I’m pretty sure it’s no longer around, though I should probably check on that, just to be sure.

What I can report is that #93’s new digs didn’t make quite the immediate impression that Gretzky’s did — not, at least, if the December, 1993 issue of Toronto Life is your source, as it is mine. Consulting the magazine’s year-end awards issue, I find that while Gardoonies figured not at all,  #99’s place had endeared itself so thoroughly to its host city that it featured twice, winning recognition as the city’s

NOISIEST RESTAURANT

Wayne Gretzky’s on Peter Street; take earplugs.

and for the year’s

MOST AUDACIOUS ATTEMPT AT STICKHANDLING THROUGH CITY COUNCIL

By Wayne Gretzky, who tried to get 41 Peter Street (the location of his jock – stop/restaurant) changed to 99 Blue Jay Way. The Great One’s request is tied up in city council.

Councillor Howard Levine was chairman of the committee considering the application, and he said the city was being seen as “pliant and lacking in principles” for even contemplating allowing the change.

Another councillor, Robert Maxwell, said that letting Gretzky have his Way would give the impression that anybody could have a street name changed.

“You just don’t play with history like that,” said Councillor Michael Walker, though I guess in the end the lesson we all learned is that you do, if you can, and Gretzky did, eventually. But then, like the restaurant at 99 Blue Jays Way itself (as of tonight), that’s also, well, history.

a hundred years hirsute: the nhl’s first moustache (and other moustaches)

Lanny McDonald and Moustache: “Put a handle on it and you could clean your driveway.”

Start with Andy Blair. Talking hockey moustaches, you had to start with him: for a long time in the early years of the NHL, his Toronto Maple Leaf lip was the only one in the entire loop to be adorned with any growth of hair. Or so we thought. Turns out hockey wasn’t quite so clean-shaven as we were led to believe. In fact, Blair wasn’t even the first Toronto player to skate mustachioed. Puckstruck exclusive: the NHL’s first recognized moustache made its debut as early as the league’s second season.

Jack Adams was the man to wear it. Better known for his later (smooth-faced) exploits as coach and general manager of the Detroit Red Wings, Adams was an accomplished player in his time, too, of course, winning two Stanley Cups in the NHL’s first decade. The first of those came in the spring of 1918 with Toronto.

It was when he returned to the team — now the Arenas — later that year that he changed his look. We have just a single source on this so far, but it’s persuasive: Adams, an astute Toronto reporter took note, boasted

a tooth brush decoration on his upper lip. You’ve gotta get pretty close to Jack to see it, as he is a blonde.

Andy Blair’s moustache was much more distinctive, not to mention very well documented. A Winnipeg-born centreman, Blair made his NHL debut in 1928. As best we can trace, he came into the league smooth-faced. The evidence isn’t conclusive but as far as we know he did get growing until the early 1930s.

When we think of classic Leafian moustaches, it’s Lanny McDonald’s full-frontal hairbrush that comes to mind, or maybe Wendel Clark’s fu manchu. Blair’s was trim. A teammate, Hap Day, described it as “a little Joe College-type.” Trent Frayne preferred “Charlie Chaplin.” It even rates a mention in Blair’s biography in the Hockey Hall of Fame register of players — even though it didn’t survive the end of his NHL career.

After eight seasons with the Leafs, Blair and his laden lip went to Chicago in 1936 for a final fling with the Black Hawks. Blair, at least, lasted the year: “I see the boys got together and made him shave off his Clark Gable moustache,” former Leafs teammate Charlie Conacher noted that year. “That is something more than we could get him to do when he played in Toronto.” The story goes that it disappeared under duress: only after his Chicago teammates repeatedly threatened to do the job forcibly did Blair get around to shaving the moustache away.

Lucky for Blair that it hadn’t happened sooner: like his Canadiens counterpart Pit Lepine, Conacher actually headed up a fervent anti-moustache campaign through the ’30s. Well, maybe that’s a bit strong: Conacher was a paid pitchman through for Palmolive Shave Cream (Giant Size Double Quantity 40 cents!). I don’t doubt that he used the stuff himself. I do wonder whether he actually said, of his own free will, “Palmolive knocks my whiskers for a goal every time I use it.”

It was another Leaf who picked up where Blair left off, though it took a few years. In the fall of 1945, The Globe and Mail introduced rookie defenceman Garth Boesch as the man sporting “the most impressive crop of lip foliage in a major hockey dressing room since Andy Blair.” Columnist Bobbie Rosenfeld was willing to go even further: if you left the Calder Trophy voting for NHL rookie-of-the-year to women, and Boesch would win hands (face?) down. “That Garth moustache,” she wrote, “which is a la Caesar Romero, has the femmes swooning every time the Leafs’ defence star steps on the ice.”

“I started growing it when I was 18 and I still have it,” Boesch told the Globe’s Paul Patton in 1975, when Boesch was 54. Red Dutton was supposed to have watched him as a young prospect, declaring, “With that moustache, he’s got two strikes against him before he starts.”

“I never heard that,” Boesch said. “Nobody ever complained to me.” He was proud to say he never lost a tooth in his five years playing in the NHL. He did acquire an honest share of stitches, though. “Lots on my lower lip, but never on my upper lip. I always had a big nose and I guess it protected my moustache.” Continue reading