Exploring The Literary And Artistic Side Of Tennis During The Pandemic

Roger Federer is the GOAT (photo: Andrés Bella Art/Instagram)

International Blog – Michael Dickens

The novel coronavirus pandemic has upended the tennis world since mid-March. While there’s no tournament play on the immediate horizon – July 13 at the earliest if we’re lucky – it’s caused players and fans, and even the media who cover the sport, to look for other avenues within tennis to stay connected.

During the past month, there’s been no shortage of interesting off-the-court social media content – from off-beat photos and videos to interesting podcasts and insightful Instagram chats – that have allowed all of us to hear, capture and enjoy a glimpse of our favorite players we don’t often get a chance to experience. I have tried to capture a portion of this for Tennis TourTalk in a daily news and notes feature.

However, the sabbatical from the week-to-week rhythm of the ATP and WTA tours has also allowed me a chance to explore both the artistic and literary sides of tennis – as well as some of its history. There’s plenty of each worth exploring and by all appearances, time is our ally.

First, I have been catching up on the current as well as past issues of Racquet, which is a New York-based quarterly magazine that celebrates the art, ideas, style and culture that surround tennis. The current issue (Spring, No. 13), which arrived in my mailbox just in time for the start of the tennis shut down,  features a variety of interesting tennis photography as well as some insightful articles, including: The Athlete as Activist by longtime tennis writer and historian Joel Drucker, which focuses on how Arthur Ashe integrated the South African Open back in 1973; and A Moment to Savor by The New Yorker’s Louisa Thomas, about Francesca Schiavone’s 2010 French Open triumph at Roland Garros and how her joy in winning it all was  both infectious and effective.

Recently, I came across the artist Andrés Bella, who recycles tennis materials to create his art. Bella is New York born and currently calls the San Francisco Bay Area home. His family fusion – father is Hungarian-born, who grew up in Venezuela, and mother is Colombian, who moved to the U.S. in the early 1960s – is full of different cultures and it’s evident in his artistic approach.

Bella grew up playing tennis as a child and eventually captained his college team at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. All along, he maintained an interest and appreciation in the arts and became fascinated by repurposing tennis’s past to understand the present and influence the future.

Among his signature work, Bella enjoys crafting images of players from tennis racquets. He’s created portraits of Roger Federer and Serena Williams as well as Andre Agassi and Tommy Haas. He has also dabbled in non-tennis personalities, including David Bowie, John Lennon and Carrie Fisher.

On his website, andresbellaart.com, Bella has placed an artist’s statement: “I make my art with tennis materials. Tennis has always been a part of my life. Dismantling and re-purposing the materials I once used for competition feels right. It’s like a rebirth. Now, rather than allowing this material to define me, I’m defining it.”

As Bella explained during a 2019 Tennis Channel feature that aired during Roland Garros: “Life is my canvas, tennis is the materials that help bring out my feelings and what inspires me.”