Andres Bella is both a lifelong tennis player and lover. He’s also an accomplished artist.
The New York native now combines both passions, creating art by using used tennis equipment, including old rackets, strings and balls.
GreenSportsBlog spoke with Bella about his work, including its environmental messages.
GreenSportsBlog: The intersection of tennis, art and green…who knew? I don’t know much about art but as an avid if mediocre tennis player, I love it. How did you come to this?
Andres Bella: I played tennis all my life, starting at around four years old on the public parks in Queens, New York. I began playing competitively in high school at St. Joseph’s in Trumbull, Connecticut.
GSB: I grew up in Fairfield, just southwest of Trumbull.
Andres: I played against James Blake, who became a top 10 player in the world, in high school…
GSB: …James Blake went to my high school.
Andres: Let’s just say he beat me handily. I played Division I tennis at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut but never made it to the pro level.
So, I ended up getting jobs like most everyone else. In my case, I went into the graphic design and digital marketing worlds. I kept playing tennis here and there but primarily for the love of the sport and the workout.
GSB: So, I see the art side of things with your graphic design work. How did tennis-as-art come to pass?
Andres: The idea first came to mind around 2007, when I had a bunch of my old rackets just lying around. The question, “What should I do with them?”, rattled around in my head.
I knew I wanted to make art, specifically portraits with them, and it wasn’t until 2009 that I had time to focus on it. I strung my own rackets as well and started collecting the leftover strings.
My first portrait was of Roger Federer, titled “Who Framed Roger Federer?” A friend of mine had a used Wilson Pro Staff racket— Federer’s racket of choice — that he customized to Federer’s specs. It was the perfect choice for my first racket portrait.
This is where it all started for me, especially the process. It became the boilerplate for my future portraits.
GSB: What did you do with them?
Andres: I was living in Nashville at the time — my wife was in graduate school there at Vanderbilt University. There was a small gallery in the area, and I entered a group show and got my first taste of publicly displaying my art.
After my wife graduated from Vanderbilt, we moved back to New York City. I showed the Federer piece along with a couple of other tennis string portraits I had created on canvas at the Midtown Tennis Club.
GSB: How were they received?
Andres: Midtown Tennis Club had the works prominently displayed in the lobby for a while and, because of that, I was able to sell three of them there. The club also donated any broken rackets they came across so I could repurpose them into art and rotate in new works. I could be abstract and really use my creativity. That’s when I thought to myself, “this could become something”.
GSB: When did it really start to take off?
Andres: Instagram reached out to me back in 2016.
They liked the uniqueness of my work, recycling old tennis materials to make art. They helped connect the dots with the tennis world and as a result,
I was featured during the 2016 US Open where my work was displayed in one of the suites in Arthur Ashe Stadium. The US Open interviewed me in the suite where my art was displayed. It was surreal, all of it. I mean, I was born in Flushing, the home of the US Open. There was no better venue for all of this to come together.
GSB: That’s HUGE!!!
Andres: I know! Fast forward to 2019. Tennis Channel came to my studio in Walnut Creek, California to do a feature on my art for the French Open, given that Paris is synonymous with art. ESPN International reached out to me around the same time and commissioned an abstract logo of ESPN as well as a portrait of Juan Martin delPotro of Argentina (shown here).
Shortly thereafter, ESPN Australia commissioned a portrait of Ash Barty, the Australian who won the French women’s championship.
GSB: So, where does the environment come into play?
Andres: At minimum, saving the rackets from landfill, which is a good thing. And getting the supply of rackets is not a problem — local clubs, friends, and fans of my work are happy to give used rackets and string away for upcycling into art.
GSB: How many used rackets do you have?
Andres: I have hundreds in my garage plus an untold amount of string.
In addition to the environmental benefits to keeping the materials out of landfill, I’ve also branched out from tennis to environmental subjects.
“After The Ivory” is a piece I created about the horrific poaching of elephants in Africa…
GSB: According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, a wonderful nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of wild things and wild places, 96 elephants are killed every day in Africa. How did this piece come together?
Andres: Well it started with finding a discarded door on the street. I carved the shape of the elephant and stuffed it with multi-color used tennis string to evoke the beauty and vulnerability of the elephant.
GSB: That is beautiful. Do you have other environmentally-themed artworks?
Andres: I created an abstract butterfly piece called “Wings and Losses”, again to show the beauty and vulnerability of the creature. And I just recently completed one using broken tennis rackets on reclaimed wood to give the appearance of flames. The idea resulted from the wildfires that were becoming too frequent out here in California, some of which hit pretty close to home.
GSB: Which is of course very topical with the Australian Open taking place now in the midst of the wildfires bedeviling that country…
Andres: Absolutely. It’s heartbreaking what’s going on there. I’ve been working through some ideas to create a series of pieces related to this.
GSB: The four major championships — the Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, all of which have signed on to the U.N.’s Sport for Climate Action framework, should display your artwork in highly visible fan-facing locations.
Andres: I appreciate that and am certainly all for it. I would love to partner with each of the four majors and develop artwork and/or an installation piece that’s unique to their tournament and region to help spread the message for climate action. The art could also be sold or auctioned, and the proceeds donated towards a climate action organization. I’d love the opportunity to sit down with them and discuss ideas.
GSB: Beyond showing your art at tournaments, how else do you want to influence the sustainability and climate discussion?
Andres: I would love to be an ambassador for companies involved with tennis that are also taking sustainability and climate seriously. Some tennis brands and companies have taken notice and shared my art on their social media pages which generated a lot of views. And the responses were very positive across followers and fans. I think my art can help these brands and companies get the message out and inspire them and their customers to think differently about sustainability.
For more about Andres Bella and his art made from tennis equipment, click here.