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The Caw: Meet the Famed Artist Behind the Ravens' Paintings

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When I saw the Ravens’ new Super Bowl XLVII paintings this week, I was blown away. Who had done such amazing work?

The answer is Stephen Holland, and he has one heck of a story.

Holland, 76, grew up in the Bronx. He was an artist as far back as he can remember (the class artist in first grade), but had no focus.

He always liked painting the human figure, but as a young artist couldn’t afford to hire a nude model. Thus, he turned to sports magazines to find his first muse.

“I liked football, though I wasn’t a big sports fan. But I wound up getting some sports magazines, and I started drawing from the sports magazines just for the figures,” he said. “At the same time, I was a real screw up.”

He was a terrible student at the School of Industrial Art and later Pratt Institute. He had no sense of discipline and, “it was the 60s.” 

But there was more to the magazines than just engaging practice pictures. He started reading the articles and learning more about sports, and he was amazed by the stories.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, look at how hard these guys work. That’s what you have to do to be successful!’” Holland remembers. “I knew then I had to work as hard as I could.”

That’s when Holland finally found his focus as a sports artist. Holland started painting the greatest athletes in sports and eventually got linked up with famed boxer Muhammad Ali. Holland’s paintings of Ali became the artist's calling card, and many resided in the former boxer’s home.

Now a California resident, he went on to paint for the United States Olympic Committee, Los Angeles Kings, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, Colorado Avalanche and more.

“Because I was such a screw-up, I have incredible respect for professionals in any field,” Holland said. “Athletes, they’re just awesome. It’s almost incomprehensible – their size, strength, ability. They’ve just always blown me away.”

In 2003, Holland met Kristin Powers, the Ravens’ art and design consultant, at an art expo in New York. Powers commissioned him for 11 paintings commemorating the team’s first championship run to Super Bowl XXXV. Those masterpieces hung in the hallway leading to the team’s main conference room for more than a decade, and Powers went back to him after the Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII.

“He’s one of the greatest, if not the greatest, professional sports artists around,” Powers said. “He does the best job of capturing the sport of football in his art. The rough, tough, masculine nature of the sport really comes through in his work.”

Now, as part of the team’s Under Armour Performance renovation, the Super Bowl XXXV series has been replaced by the 11 Super Bowl XLVII paintings, which took him nearly three years to complete. The Super Bowl XXXV paintings are being relocated throughout the existing building.

Of the 11 new paintings, there’s Jacoby Jones’ “Mile High Miracle” and Super Bowl kickoff return for a touchdown. There are two Anquan Boldin touchdown catches and one Torrey Smith touchdown grab over Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. Ray Lewis is the focus of two paintings. One of Holland’s favorites is of Joe Flacco standing in the pocket with pressure all around him during Super Bowl XLVII.

“I’m really happy with them,” Holland said. “Some of them are almost lyrical in their shapes and forms.

“I tried to put a lot of rich coloring into them. The whole thing is kind of juicy like a birthday cake. I wanted that feeling while still keeping it gritty as hell.”

A gritty birthday cake. Yeah, I’d say that captures the Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII run pretty well.

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