Online Exclusive: Poker Kings and Queens in Still-Life Canvases

Poker Kings and Queens in Still-Life Canvases

Visual artists transform poker action into static works of art

The poker room offers a myriad scenes that any budding visual artist would want to put on canvas. The texture of the tension-filled tables, where ferocious card sharks sit motionless while waiting for their opponents to break the contours and make their moves, have all been the subject of numerous paintings that are now considered as masterpieces in the world of art.

Dogs Playing Poker
Perhaps the most classic poker art that has been around for almost 150 years is Cassius Marcellus Coolidge’s A Friend In Need, more popularly known as Dogs Playing Poker. The impressionist painting, according to art critic Annette Ferrera, originally intended to present a wry and whimsical satire on middle-class men entertainment during those times, when poker was then viewed as “a cheater’s game.” But interestingly, the seven anthropomorphized card-playing dogs have become a fixture in old-style poker halls since it was first seen by the public in the 1870s, as well as in calendars, coffee mugs, printed shirts and many more. The canvas has since spawned into 15 more paintings from Coolidge, all of which feature the dogs, albeit in different poker settings. Ferrera explained the paintings’ enduring appeal as “indelibly burned into… the American collective-schlock subconscious… through incessant reproduction on all manner of pop ephemera.”

“Poker Artist” Lisa Jane unabomber-and-unabombshell
Perhaps the lasting legacy of Coolidge’s artworks is the line of painters who call themselves “poker artists,” one of whom is English visual artist Lisa Jane. Her paintings revolve around the thrill and action of the poker room, drawing lines and putting textures to an otherwise gloomy and nondescript poker scene. Her artworks of tournaments, players, and hands try to capture the tension, characters, and moods in the popular card game, while incorporating visual styles like graffiti art, pop art, and the candy color themes reminiscent of 1950s cartoons. Other than the usual poker hall, Jane focuses on players’ expressions, sketching oil and charcoal canvases of the likes of Phil Ivey, Phil Laak, and James Akenhead. It is, thus, not surprising that her first solo exhibit was held at the sidelines of the World Poker Tour London Poker Classic. The exhibit, entitled Poker in the Eye, wants to present a different style that poker artists can adopt – something that is abstract and postmodern.

Blazing the Trail
There have been numerous outlets for the artful depiction of poker through the years in various forms of media. These range from the motion and lighting flourishes provided by director Martin Campbell in Casino Royale; to still images captured by photographer Joe Giron in his many poker room assignments which nevertheless manage to convey the action on hand; to James Curtis’s simple yet effective collage-style graphic designs for gaming site PartyPoker’s many events and promos.

That said, even with the existence of these other media, arguably nothing beats the paint and the brush in putting textures and hues to a masterfully played game of poker.

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