Capturing the Play

The art of defining moments in sports and music history

By Sue Baldani

Artist Mark Kannell of Florham Park has captured almost every iconic athlete in paint on jerseys, footballs, helmets, and even sneakers. Some of these athletes have bought these amazing paintings for themselves.

“I used to draw athletes while in college and liked to get them autographed at card shows or autograph signings, so that’s when I started getting into sports,” says Mark.

He never really thought of it as a career until he received a commission from Sports Express, a store that was located in Livingston, for a painted jersey featuring Patrik Elias, who played for the NJ Devils at the time. After others saw his work, he started to get more and more sports commissions.

“Tom Brady is one that I’ve painted many times, and he owns one of the painted jerseys,” says Mark. “Shaquille O’Neal is another who owns one. I’ve also done a lot of paintings of Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali.” Other pieces includes Derek Jeter, Patrick Mahomes, and Eli Manning.

When Mariano Rivera, a former Yankee, saw the two paintings Mark wanted him to autograph, he told him he had to have one. “He was the first athlete who directly commissioned me to do a painting,” he says.

Before that original commission, Mark never thought of painting on mediums other than canvas or paper, but after that, people in the sports memorabilia industry started commissioning him to paint not only on jerseys, but on autographed footballs and helmets as well.

“I started doing some research about it,” he says. “I used different paints to see what would work best. For example, I use a leather paint because it’s more flexible.”

While painting, Mark uses extremely high-resolution images of moments in history, like Derek Jeter’s 3000th hit, as his guide. “People tell me I have the ability to capture every detail. For example, if I’m doing a painting of a player and see little holes in his jersey, I’ll add those in, whereas many artists may not. And people also tell me I’m able to capture faces really well.”

Besides athletes, Mark has also painted music personalities, such as Carrie Underwood, on another unique medium. “I started selling a lot of music paintings to charity auctions and was commissioned to paint on guitars,” he says. “I did a few Taylor Swift guitars last summer and was told that she was going to autograph them. I’ve also painted Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, and Mick Jagger, all on guitars as well.”

Mark also does live painting. “I’ll bring an easel and set up a jersey and paint live at an event. People can come up and see it and if they want to commission something, they can do that.”

You can see Mark’s incredible pieces at Legends Gallery in Chatham, on Instagram and in videos on TikTok. His work has also been featured in a story on Entertainment Tonight and has been shared on many major social media pages such as the Bleacher Report, Complex, and CBS Sports. He has also been hired by EA Sports to create original paintings of football players for Madden NFL’s social media outlets.

To learn more about Mark or to commission a piece, go to https://markkannellfineart.com/.

Written for Chatham & Short Hills Lifestyle magazine in New Jersey.

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