Fields of Dreams

The Journal News – by Georgette Gouveia, photo by Shawheen Hazrati

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Fields of Dreams

Yogi Berra, Dean Lombardo and Graig Kreindler with a commissioned painting for Berra's permanent museum collection. The painting is of Don Larsen's World Series perfect game on Oct. 8, 1956, in which catcher Yogi Berra jumped into the pitcher's arms.

March 30, 2008 – What’s in a name? Plenty if it happens to be Graig Kreindler.

That’s “G-R-A-I-G”, not Greg or Craig.

“I get this question all the time: Were you named for Graig Nettles?” says Kreindler, whose father is an avid New York Yankees fan. “Yes, I was named for Graig Nettles.”

A couple of years ago, Kreindler had an opportunity to convey that to Nettles, who starred at third base for the Yankees teams of the late 1970s. Nettles has a reputation for being as quick with a biting gesture or opinion as he was with his glove.

“The look on his face was priceless,” Kreindler says.

Perhaps it was inevitable then that Kreindler, a Monsey resident, should become a painter of baseball images. Now he’s making a different kind of name for himself with more than 40 painting commissions, as well as book-cover and sports-card illustrations – and works in such permanent collections as the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center in Montclair, N.J.

Not bad for someone who still looks like a grad student – he received a master’s in art education last year from Lehman College in the Bronx – his hair standing up in the middle and his shirttails hanging out.

“I’m forever telling him to tuck in his shirttails,” says Dean Lombardo, owner of Objects & Images Inc. Fine Art in Bronxville.

Lombardo, who used to make medical documentaries, has been in the art business about 20 years, 8 1/2 of them in SoHo. In September, he sold the building he had at 99 Pondfield Road and moved Objects & Images to No. 44 on the same street.

It is now a private art dealership, meaning that he works with art patrons rather than run a gallery. Much of his time is taken up with nurturing artists like Kreindler.

“My business is based on the foundation of my relationship with my artists. There are a lot of struggling artists in this world, and the galleries take advantage of them,” says Lombardo, who still remembers the judgmental looks he’d get from gallery owners as a casually dressed visitor. “My artists make me successful.”

Almost a year ago, Lombardo recalls, Kreindler walked into his gallery: “He showed me his work. I said, ‘I’d like to see more.’ He brought in a bunch of paintings, and I was floored.”

He’s not the only one.

“I didn’t picture something like this,” says Pamela Cott, who’s dropped by the creamy yellow offices of Objects & Images to pick up the painting her husband Noel commissioned – Kreindler’s rendering of the electrifying catch that New York Mets left fielder Endy Chavez made against the St. Louis Cardinals in the seventh game of the 2006 National League Championship Series.

“Chavez Steals the Show” captures a magical moment, with the straining outfielder transcending the left-field wall to trap the ball in the tip of his glove as if it were the scoop atop an ice-cream cone.

“I pictured something commercial, not so subtle and beautifully executed,” says Cott, of Roslyn, N.Y.

For her husband, the painting is all that and much more.

Noel Cott is a New York Mets fan whose ardor for baseball is perhaps exceeded only by that of sons Ben, 19, Michael, 17, and Daniel, 11. He commissioned the canvas after seeing Kreindler’s work in a profile and inviting the artist to a Mets game.

“I was so taken with Graig’s palette and his ability to capture the true colors and spirit of the game,” Cott writes in a vivid e-mail. “With Shea Stadium giving way to the new Citi Field come the 2009 season, I wanted to somehow capture a historic moment at Shea that me and my boys had shared in person and would remember for many years to come.”

That moment was Chavez’s catch, which, though spectacular, did not provide the Mets with enough momentum to defeat the Cardinals.

“The Cott boys will always remember the long, painfully quiet car ride home,” Noel Cott writes, “with Daniel in tears, Michael in a state of catatonia while Ben barked out that we could not turn on the radio to hear the game-ending details. …Graig’s marvelous representation of (the Chavez) moment evokes all the sights, smells and sounds that we experienced firsthand that night.

“Since we hung Graig’s picture in our den, I smile every time I gaze upon it. … With Graig’s help, I’ve captured something that will soon be gone forever.”

What makes Kreindler’s work appealing is its location at the intersection of history and art, and thus, of one generation and another. Kreindler says he does a great deal of research for his oil paintings – which are priced from $1,500 to $1,800 for a small canvas, and $5,500 to $9,000 for a large one.

He pores over black-and-white photographs and newsreel footage, securing permission to draw on those sources if he’s doing a cover like that of Phil Pepe’s new book, “Magic Moments Yankees,” or the painting for series of limited-edition lithographs, like those of the Philadelphia Phillies ballpark. He agonizes over the right hues and the textures of the times.

“What make these paintings unique … is that he has to build the work from a black-and-white or sepia image,” Lombardo says. “The colors, rendition and such are the artist’s recreation of a past event.”

But for all his historical obsessing – the artworks on Kreindler’s Web site (www.graigkreindler. com) are showcased in faux newspaper pages that provide accounts of the inspiring games – there is a nice, loosey-goosey quality to the brushwork that belies the photo-realism of many of the paintings.

In “Young Ruth Thrills Crowd” (2007), fans in the old Polo Grounds recede into a sun-dappled patchwork of Impressionistic brushstrokes as The Babe heads for a shadowy home plate. There, the folded-arm stance of the Giants’ catcher says all you need to know about dejection.

“Young Ruth Thrills Crowd” is precisely the type of painting that caught the eye of Lombardo, who specializes in living artists, particularly Contemporary Impressionists.

Kreindler credits landscape painter Peter Fiore – his mentor at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, where he earned his bachelor of fine arts degree in 2002 – with guiding him toward a more painterly style.

“The kind of work I was doing at SVA was science fiction, fantasy, photo-realism,” says Kreindler, who up to that point was more interested in drawing than painting. “(Fiore) taught me almost everything I know about painting. I fell in love with the idea of painting in a more gestural, looser manner.”

For his senior thesis, Kreindler was assigned to illustrate a relationship. “I thought it would be really cool to illustrate the relationship between a batter and a pitcher,” he remembers. “I thought of doing a painting my father would like.”

Kreindler’s father, Michael – a science teacher in the Bronx for 35 years – is a diehard Yankee fan. Mom Arlene, a Bronx math teacher for as many years, was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan who has made her peace with the Yanks.

“Even though the Yankees won in ’96, ’98, ’99 and so on, I felt more connected to the players of the past,” Kreindler says.

So he came up with the idea of Mickey Mantle hitting a home run in the 1952 World Series. The painting met with parental as well as academic approval: It’s still hanging in the family home in Monsey.

The Kreindler homestead may be Yankee country, but the artist has a broader appreciation for baseball. His 2005 “Curse Is Foiled” painting, for a series of limited-edition lithographs, freezes the David Ortiz home run that proved to be the turning point in the Red Sox back-from-the-dead defeat of the Yanks in 2004.

Lombardo can’t resist the rub: “(Graig’s) father still cringes whenever he gets a Red Sox painting commission.”