What began as a simple hobby for a Jersey City artist has now morphed into a big-time career, one that will soon see him creating a sports mural on a yet to be determined wall location in the city.
Paul Lempa, who was a former standout basketball player at St. Peter’s Prep and New York University, has been painting sports images on everything from baseball card-sized canvases to actually painting on footballs, baseballs, and basketballs.
Lempa has become such a respected artist that he’s been commissioned to do work for the Topps Baseball Card Company and has done an assortment of work for Topps since 2007. He recently had his first gallery show, featuring many of his sports-related creations.
“I’m a big sports fan, first and foremost,” the 40-year-old Lempa said when he was first interviewed in 2009. “I’m also very nostalgic about sports. I like the look of old baseball cards. It has a rich tradition in Americana. I like the logo changes, the uniform changes. I got into card collecting and autograph collecting, but I just loved the way everything was back then. I’m definitely a student of baseball history.”
But Lempa is not limited to just baseball creations.
In 2009, Lempa painted a host of different National Football League players like Eli Manning, Kurt Warner, and Chad Ochocinco, featuring each player in their native settings, like the New York skyline behind local hero Manning.
Lempa recently had an idea that he first saw on Facebook, involving the city of Cincinnati, Ohio, where artists were working with youngsters to create murals all over the municipality.
“Cincinnati made it into an entire program,” Lempa said. “They were able to get artists and children together and it turned it into a wonderful thing.”
Lempa did more research and found that the program was happening in other towns across the country.
“I found out that Philadelphia is the city of murals,” Lempa said. “There are over 3,000 murals in Philadelphia. It just looked like something that I wanted to do.”
So Lempa made a proposal to Jersey City officials to see if there was an interest to bring a similar program to the place where Lempa resides.
“It’s just one of those things that I thought would be interesting for Jersey City,” Lempa said.
He made the proposal to Kevin Lyons, the deputy chief of staff to Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy. Lyons and Lempa attended St. Peter’s Prep together.
“We went back and forth,” Lempa said. “[Greenville Councilman] Mike Sottolano and some other people involved with Jersey City Cultural Affairs [director Maryanne Kelleher and assistant Greg Brickey] and we devised a plan that would be a lot like the programs in Philadelphia and Cincinnati.”
Lempa will now look for a location for the first mural project, a wall that will feature a lot of the great athletes from Jersey City and historic sporting events that took place in the city.
“We have to come up with a concept and a cost proposal,” Lempa said. “But it looks like it’s going to happen. I think once the officials in Jersey City realized that it’s happening in other parts of the country, that it only made sense to have a similar program here.”
Lempa said that the goal is to do several murals throughout the city.
“We’d like to be able to do two-to-three a year,” Lempa said. “We want to make it a recurring program.”
Lempa was asked if he could go from painting on baseballs and mini-canvases to huge walls.
“It’s definitely a challenge,” Lempa said. “But it won’t be just me painting. We’ll have a concept to follow, but we’ll be teaching kids to paint the mural as well. It will all be like me being an art director rather than being an artist.”
But it certainly is an interesting idea, capturing the city’s rich and storied history in art. There is certainly enough material and people for Lempa to choose from. It’s going to be an interesting history lesson for Lempa to sort through.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Lempa said.
He’s also currently in the process of looking for the perfect site for the first mural.
“It’s the one thing we don’t have right now,” Lempa said. “We’re scouting around for the right location.”
Now that the plans are in place, it won’t take long for Lempa to start receiving suggestions for the right spot. But it should be a very interesting program, getting younger, aspiring artists involved with beautifying Jersey City and capturing some of the incredible athletic history in the process.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.
You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.