Rochester Hills artist Doug West has produced sports artwork for decades, earning him a spot as the official artist for the National Baseball and Pro Football Halls of Fame. His work is now taking a different focus, opening up new doors and a new-found personal freedom.
"I did my first portrait of Al Kaline and sold it the next day. From there, it's been a train ride," West said. "I ended up in the Baseball Hall of Fame, where for about seven years I did the yearbook induction program for the Hall of Fame. In the early ‘90s, I did lithographs of Steve Yzerman... and now the Pro Football Hall of Fame for their Superbowl event."
In 2016, West started transitioning from sports and into expressionist paintings that focus on rock stars. West said change in both subject matter and style has served as a start to a second-part of his career. The change, he said, came after finishing a complex life portrait he was commissioned to make.
"It was a family portrait, with kids and cars, and a large oil painting. I thought it would probably take a week to finish. That turned into 10 weeks," he said. "Sometimes it comes together beautifully and sometimes it’s brutal. This turned out beautiful, but you can't predict with art how long it will take. I felt like I was stuck in this box and painting details."
As a side project, West made an expressionist-style painting of Jimi Hendrix, which spun into a completely new project.
"It was so freeing, so then I did Jim Morrison," he said. "I did 13 pieces over the summer, and it's grown. I'm doing another six for The Art of Custom Framing, in Troy."
West's first round of paintings resulted in his "Forever 27 Club" series, which focused on rock icons who died in their 27th year. His transition from sports to rock 'n roll expressionism was featured on Detroit Public Television's Emmy Award series, Detroit Performs. His work has also been exhibited at Art Prize in Grand Rapids. His latest work will be featured in January at The Art of Custom Framing for a dual show with photographer Ed Bembas for "Detroit Through Lens and Brush,” which will showcase West's rendition of Detroit musical artists from Motown to Eminem and Kid Rock.
Another recent project of West's includes a large, 61-foot mural at Rochester's Emagine Entertainment Theater, where owner Paul Glantz commissioned him to paint characters from timeless movies.
Raised in Warren as the son of a painter, West said he knew from an early age he would be an artist. However, the specifics weren't always clear.
"From the egg, I knew I was going to be an artist," he said. "My dad was an artist, and I have three brothers. He poured his dream into us."
West said he recalled portrait paintings by baseball painter Dick Perez, where he and his father walked into a sports collector's show one day in the 1980s that was void of any art. It was then that he knew he could make a living as a sports artist.
"I'm a Christian guy and my forté, or my God-given gift, is to do portraits. At 6-years old, I could do portraits," West said. "Ask me to draw a building – no way. But portraits, yes."
Photo: Jean Lannen