The reality is that his canvas would be an outdoor basketball court, and his gallery would be a neighborhood in William LaChance’s hometown of St. Louis.
“I’ve always maintained an abstract body of work as well as a figurative body of work,” says LaChance. “This one is decidedly in the abstract camp.”
A New Kind of Project
It all started when LaChance was contacted by Dan Peterson, the Founder of Project Backboard, an organization that transforms public basketball courts into works of art. Project Backboard treats outdoor backboards and blacktops like canvases, partnering with local artists to make each one truly distinct.
When Project Backboard teamed up with Enterprise to overhaul a court in the Kinloch neighborhood of St. Louis, Peterson researched local artists and was immediately drawn to William LaChance’s work (or “Bill” as Peterson refers to him).
Reflecting upon that stage of the process, Peterson recalls thinking, “This is the guy. It’s always nicer to have an artist who’s local, and have an artist who’s been really exploring his own work the way Bill has been for so long. It makes it fun.”
LaChance grew up in St. Louis, where his parents and grandparents collected and dealt antiques. Growing up around antiques helped LaChance develop an appreciation for art at an early age. He continued to hone his artistic talents and interests at the Kansas City Art Institute, The Chautauqua Institution (Chautauqua, NY), University of Maryland, and Indiana University – the last two of which exposed art major LaChance to basketball.
“I was never any good at playing it. But in graduate school I went to Indiana University and the University of Maryland, two basketball powerhouses,” said LaChance. Little did he know his alma mater’s basketball tradition and his life as an artist would soon converge.
Taking Cubism Above The Rim
LaChance is best known for his brightly colored abstract work. His art has been permanently featured in the collections of the U.S. Federal Reserve, National Broadcasting Channel (NBC), and Nike, to only name a few.
But the Kinloch court was a new kind of artistic challenge. And that started with the 100-feet by 150-feet scale.
“It’s definitely the biggest painting I’ve ever done, which I’m really excited about,” says LaChance. “Thinking about the scale is one of the things that drove the imagery – just really capitalize on the bigness of it.”
But how would the artist approach bringing his epic canvas to life?
“The idea from the beginning was to treat the artwork as the ground for the figure/ground relationship, speaking in artistic terms,” says LaChance. “I wanted to keep it one unified image so that it’s just one big, big thing – also keeping it fundamentally abstract. I would refer to it as a cubist composition. The whole rationale behind cubism is that the viewer is never standing still when they’re looking at an object. They’re always moving so that’s why you have the different perspectives within one picture. Just thinking about playing basketball – it’s just constant kinetic energy. That’s why it’s broken up into multiple passages.”
LaChance believes that the people who ultimately use the court inherently become part of the art.
“The thinking is that when basketball games are happening, when people are using the courts, they’ll provide the figure too; when there are kids playing on it, that completes the composition,” explains LaChance.
The Reviews Are In
Once the court was complete, local community members were quick to rave about LaChance’s work on their court. “It’s beautiful,” says Keri Gilyard, a lifelong Kinloch resident who organizes weekend play and 3-on-3 tournaments at Kinloch Park. “Name another court that looks like this!” adds Gilyard.
But LaChance’s work has caught the attention of international art authorities, as well.
Architectural Digest named the court “1 of the 10 best designed basketball courts in the world.”
Dezeen’s headline read, “William LaChance spruces up St. Louis basketball courts with ‘tapestry of colour.’”
Artsy.com ran a long profile on the project and its artist.
But for LaChance, the most satisfying part of the experience has been seeing people from his home city of St. Louis put his art into action.
“Most, if not all artists’ ultimate objective is to have their creation morph into something, or to come to life,” says LaChance. “I think the kids growing up and playing here, having the association of art with the game that they love so much, hopefully it will lead to an arc of art appreciation throughout their lives.”