In 2009 I had the unique opportunity of meeting Serena, her family and her team during the Wimbledon Tournament. I was immediately impressed by the closeness of the Williams family and the tremendous team spirit everyone around her possesses. As Serena advanced to the finals, I had the chance to spend a few days with her and got to know her by discussing her passions, both on and off the court.
I discovered that Serena is deeply involved in building schools in Africa. The project, sponsored by Build African Schools, Inc (www.buildafricanschools.org) and supported by HP, is led by Mr. Patrick O'Sullivan, who is one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. Serena has already built two schools so far and is currently committed to building one school per year in Africa. The more I learned about Serena's project, the more inspired I became to capture the passion felt by all those involved and express it on my canvas.
My memories of meeting with Serena and our discussions inspired me to do my first sketches of tennis players. I was in awe at the level of concentration Serena expressed in every look and movement on the court. Serena mentioned to my friend that she is so focused on the game, that there is no audience, no reporters, nothing except the next ball. My artistic dilemma became how to capture the intensity and purpose in Serena’s serve – how she synchronizes all of her energy and concentration, and for that brief instant in time, becomes one with the ball.
After working on some sketches for a few months, I had the pleasure of meeting with Serena’s mother, Orcene, during the U.S. Open in New York. Because Orcene liked the sketches so much, I decided to paint Serena in oil.
I needed the perfect object to describe Serena on the court. What would be better than a tennis ball? To get the proper perspective anss.d importance of the ball, I cut it open, and displayed it like an apple peel, and placed Serena inside. Cutting open and drawing the tennis ball (apple peel) proved to be a very long and difficult process.
In February 2010, I presented the final painting (oil on canvas) to Serena at the opening of her second school in Nairobi, Kenya. Watching Serena surrounded by the children of the small village of Wee near Nairobi and realizing what a difference she is making in their lives, Serena and I knew we wanted to carry on the passion and display "Reaching Out" in every school that she sponsors.
In May my painting and I travelled to Wimbledon where I had the honor of being Serena´s guest. SHE WON!!!
What an amazing experience.
And yes, I finally had the yellow pen with me: Right after the match, befor the press conference "One" was signed. The perfect place for this painting to be signed.