James Fiorentino’s work has been found in wax packs, boxes of crackers, museum galleries, game programs ,Halls of Fame, and in the collections of those he paints–just to name a few.
While other pre-schoolers were drawing stick figures, James Fiorentino was drawing pictures that actually looked like somebody.
He was taking art lessons at eight. Had a painting in the Baseball Hall of Fame when he was fifteen. At eighteen, he was so good the New York Times did a feature story.
"Prodigy" is what they called him as a kid. "Prolific" is what you can say about this 31 year-old artist today.
Fiorentino does neo-expressionist work and wildlife too, but it is his photo-realistic watercolor paintings of athletes that put him in the national spotlight at an early age.
He began painting pictures of athletes to hustle up autographs. But it didn’t take long to realize some of his better works were best signed by only the artist himself who would eventually win over fans in pro sports, museum galleries, corporations and politics.
After winning Beckett Magazine’s annual sports art competition as a teenager in 1994 and 1995 for his portraits of Steve Carlton and Muhammad Ali, work began rolling in as word spread about the talented young New Jersey kid. That same year, the Ted Williams Hitters Hall of Fame commissioned 20 works of the greatest hitters of all time. The young artist got to meet and spend time with Williams himself. In 1995, he did the artwork for the cover of the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony program. He served as the official artist for Cal Ripken’s 2131 consecutive games played streak. In ’97, his work graced the program when the New York Yankees held Don Mattingly Day.
Two years later, while a college student–and starting shortstop–at Drew College, Fiorentino was commissioned by Topps to produce portraits for the company’s Gallery Heritage insert set. The cards featured current players in the style of the 1953 Topps issue.
"I had been in contact with a Topps representative who saw my work which was a sample 1953 Topps card of Ken Griffey Junior and from that work I got the job," he recalled.
Duly impressed, Upper Deck would contact Fiorentino for more card work beginning in 2001. By now he was 24.
"Upper Deck asked me to paint all four major sports that year including the first ever golf set and Tiger Woods art card. I had no idea they were going to put my name on the card and call it the ‘Fiorentino Collection’ which is one of the coolest things ever for me."
The insert cards were popular then and still are with collectors who love the realism and the superstar subject matter. It also led to a memorable experience when the Basketball Hall of Fame called. He was a one man art show at the Hall with his stunning fifteen original paintings of hoop legends framed with the Upper Deck cards.
"Upper Deck sent along Dr. J to be their for the opening and both he and I signed enlarged cards of the piece I did on him for the fans," he remembered.
In 2003, he was again called upon to produce an Upper Deck Play Ball set, capturing current stars of the day in the style of the old Play Ball sets of the 1930s and early 40s. He also produced a Ted Williams tribute set.
Given his dozens of meetings with Hall of Famers and current stars and his passion for athletics, it’s not surprising Fiorentino is also a hobbyist.
"I have a pretty nice collection of signed ball, photos, ect that I obtained in person from players I worked with on projects or met at various events. I have signed Mantle, Williams, DiMaggio pieces when I had a chance to meet them as a kid. I also have a lot of my art hanging around and I do collect other sports art as well from friends of mine who are also artists or pieces I just like."
He recently completed a special Babe Ruth painting as a fundraiser for a Pennsylvania baseball program. The coaches and Fiorentino himself knew Linda Ruth Tosetti, the Babe’s granddaughter, who signed them.
"Linda and I were at a game this year selling the giclees to raise money which was very fun and it looks great having her sign each giclee," Fiorentino said.
Even fellow artists are fans.
"James is a terrific person in addition to being a terrific artist," said Benjamin Blackburn of Wonderboy Studios who owns a Fiorentino original of Ryne Sandberg. "One of the things that I like so much about him as a person is that he believes in giving back to others. He has done some worthwhile charity work during his career, something I really believe in myself."
Most recently, three of Fiorentino’s original works were added to the collection at the new Sports Museum of America in New York. In fact, Fiorentino is busier than ever with a half dozen or more projects ready for the canvas thanks to client requests. He spends four to eight hours per day working out of a home studio.
"I usually complete one to two pieces a week depending on the size of the piece. Most of the time I am painting for private clients every day so I always have commissions lined up and than I work on projects for companies, events and galleries as well."
"Sometimes it piles up even more which is a nice problem to have. I also sometimes showcase my work at events like the National, All Star Fan Fest or Hall of Fame weekend which gets me commissioned work as well. I also have gallery shows and Museum openings which is a nice way to show people your art."
His most recent card project was a commission from The Kellogg Company which inserted them into packages of some of its cracker products. Some were autographed by the players and considered chase cards within the promotion. Getting his art into the hands of consumers who may not be art collectors almost always creates new fans.
" I hope to paint more trading cards for companies," he revealed. "It’s my favorite way to see my art reproduced and hopefully this year I will get a call to paint some more."
Fiorentino’s large volume of work, his current projects and details of his current exhibit in Ohio is showcased on his website, James Fiorentino.com. The numerous paintings reveal a large but impressive body of work produced in a relatively short period of time.
"His touch is brilliant," said Blackburn. "A close study of his paintings reveal an artist whose mind’s eye is as sharp as any other I know of. He understands the game."
At age 31, with hundreds of detailed pieces already in his portfolio, it’s possible his art career is really just beginning.
"I have finished a lot of work and have had my art all over the place but
still have a lot more to accomplish."