Greek Tragedy #1: That something within everyone like Achilles’ heel is fated and waiting to fail. For Lew Hoad it was his back.
Greek Tragedy #2: What being born a decade too soon might mean: his homeland (Australia) would exile him, history forget him.* (slightly overstated but not much)
In Medias Res: Pills swallowed, shots taken, drink. Difficult, sometimes impossible, to tie his shoes. Driving all night in uncomfortable cars that first year as a pro with Pancho Gonzalez: “Lew Hoad the only guy who, if I were playing my best tennis, could still beat me.”
Earlier: Lew Hoad a celebrity in 1950s’ black and white: politicians getting wet in locker room showers to shake his hand, tram drivers stopping trains to shout out scores from his Davis Cup matches.
Later: Richard Burton drunk on Shakespeare while Cleopatra sleeps inside the Campo de Tenis in Spain, the house that Lew Hoad built. The great questions of life: How much Cognac, Cointreau should we put in the Sangria? What’s that riff Stan Getz smokes on the sax?
Throughout: Lew’s bedroom eyes, what Jenny, his wife, called them: a forty-year lover of great intensity, his body like a Greek or Roman Statue.
Posters of Lew Hoad on walls of memories inside a young tennis player’s, an artist’s mind: “I’ve finally finished my picture of Lew. I don’t know why it took so long. Perhaps it’s because he was so enigmatic. In the pictures I studied of him he was so graceful, statuesque, classic. That’s why I painted his nose like I was staring up at a Greek god (Mark Shorter).” Lew’s nose looks like it belongs on Mt. Rushmore, his nose both idealized Greek Classical and Roman Realistic. As Michael Taylor writes in Rembrandt’s Nose: Of Flesh & Spirit in the Master’s Portraits, Rembrandt’s noses often “serve to focus the viewer’s attention upon, and to dramatize, the division between a flood of light—an overwhelming clarity—and a brooding duskiness.” In Mark Shorter’s painting, the drama’s between this world of flesh-muscle-bone-sculpture and the blue sky above us whatever its transcendent beauty means. For me, at least, Lew Hoad lives on in both worlds as a tennis player: not a grinder but glorious, his strong wrists and arms hitting incredible winners from any position on the court. What he lacked was shot selection, discipline, percentages . . .
*What turning pro meant: 1) You could not play for your country, so your country (Australia) disowned you. 2) You could not play Wimbledon or any of the grand slams, so the future will never quite be able to count or recount what happened when you walked the earth.
Artist Bio: “Lew” is painted by Mark Shorter. This work is the result of a collaborative dialogue of art and words on famous Australian tennis players with Mark Shorter, the endlessly innovative Australian artist and head of sculpture at the University of Melbourne. My thanks to Gertrude Contemporary, the leading incubator of contemporary art in Australia, for hooking us up. You can check out our previous collaborations here.
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