The title of the exhibition is pulled from an exchange overheard by Epstein while listening to sports talk radio in his studio. Epstein is interested in these programs because of their hyper-analytical and seemingly endless discussions around ‘who’s number one.’ The radio hosts and callers are both sentimental and fiercely opinionated—and yet all of this debate has no actual impact on the outcomes of the games.
The players depicted in Epstein’s basketball portraits have recognizable names. Their bodies are abstracted into hard-edged blue against bright yellow and pink backgrounds. Their facial features are painted slightly off kilter and appear cut and pasted. The curved lines of a basketball, a forehead, or a bicep add a slight hint of volume to an otherwise flattened plane. Jerseys emblazoned with team names provide the primary source of context and help indicate each player’s identity, as well as signify their transformation from athlete to icon.
Epstein’s baseball card series translates romantic and pre-digital means of collecting informational snapshots of one’s favorite players into digital fields of abstracted shortcuts and cues. His source material is web-based images of mass-produced player cards on which baseball idols are captured swinging the bat in an exaggerated contrapposto pose or pressing their hands into leather gloves. They communicate a rugged charm and a promise to turn a pack of cards into a nest egg and a lifetime of memories.
Epstein begins his cards (14 x 11inch wood panels) in Photoshop where he places a grid over the image before inserting representational color squares. Finally, he draws the grid onto the panel and uses his computer blueprint as an instructional key for painting. When completed, small squares of colors combine to create pixelated abstractions in which unrecognizable baseball icons hover somewhere between the pre and post analogue—stimulating the viewer to translate digital information into nostalgic adoration.