Want to know the last thing Chris Rock saw at the Oscars before Will Smith slapped him next week?
Mixed media: acrylic, oil, collage, grout. Suitable for a dining room, living room or gallery.
The 30-inch by 40-inch canvas shows the ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Men in Black’ star, his face contorted in rage, about to land a stunning blow directly at the viewer.
So how did Hackensack artist Joe LaMattina manage to do this piece so quickly – just days after Will Smith, in that incredible moment, introduced comedian Chris Rock in front of 15.4 million viewers at the Oscars on March 27?
The answer is that he did not.
This image of Will Smith was painted 14 years ago. In 2008, LaMattina thinks so.
Like the “Twilight Zone” character whose camera snaps pictures of the future, LaMattina seems to have had a mysterious early warning of an event few of us could have anticipated.
“Call it psychic,” he said. “I don’t know. It’s pretty synchronic. When it happened at the Oscars, the next day, I went ‘Saint [expletive].’ “
His first impulse, he said, was to contact his friend Randy Glover, the Hackensack resident who bought the painting in 2010.
“I was like, ‘I have to text Randy, say your painting just went up in value.'”
Meanwhile, Glover, who remembers paying between $800 and $1,200 for the part 12 years ago, hadn’t even considered the implications of his far-sighted purchase. He just loves painting.
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“You can interpret the expression as being angry, or that he’s rapping and having fun,” he said. “But it’s interesting that the name of the portrait is ‘Pow!’ That would mean he really hit someone.”
LaMattina is an established artist. His work has been seen in juried exhibitions and solo shows from Orangeburg, New York, to Anchorage, Alaska. But he is also an educator, having taught art in elementary and secondary schools in Hackensack for many years before his retirement in 2010.
In his class at Hackensack High School, he kept boxes of pictures – old photos, magazine clips, newspapers, advertisements – that could inspire his students, and maybe him- same. It was there that in 2008, he found a photo of a young man striking a pugilistic pose.
He didn’t know it was Will Smith. Unlike Andy Warhol, he doesn’t revolve around celebrities. “I’m not really a big movie buff, I kinda miss that gene,” he said. A student must have told him that the belligerent young man in the photo was none other than The Fresh Prince himself. No matter. LaMattina just liked the picture.
“I don’t remember what I was thinking,” he said. “There was something about the expression, the movement of the punches in the picture, that I really liked.”
He worked on the piece in class, he recalls. Or rather, one of his former students reminded him, on Facebook, when he posted the image the day after the Oscars. Needless to say, his account exploded.
“I had a million reactions right away,” he said. “Like ‘OMG, you work really fast.’ ‘OMG, did you do this overnight?’ And I say, ‘No, no, I did that years ago.’ People said you’re a psychic, you’re an empath.”
The thing that seems odd about this image – in retrospect – is that most people wouldn’t have thought of Will Smith as an angry, confrontational guy until last Sunday.
Granted, he played Muhammad Ali in 2001. We knew he could pack a punch. But in terms of on-screen character, he’s generally more on the Tom Hanks end of the spectrum. “He’s warm and fuzzy,” LaMattina said.
That this bellicose image of Smith was floating around decades earlier – and that this, of all images, was the one LaMattina grabbed without even knowing who it was – is the kind of thing you can’t. not invent.
“I was actually painting that night, late, maybe 10:30 p.m., and someone called me and said, ‘Have you seen Will Smith?’ And I said, ‘No, I painted.’ And they said, ‘Put the news.’ And I thought, oh my God: ‘Pow!’ It’s like there’s a fortune teller thing going on.”
His own reaction to Will Smith’s crash? Complicated.
“It was kind of, ‘Which side am I on?’ That’s kind of what everyone thought, who was right and who was wrong?
rich and famous
On the other hand, Glover, a community activist and event promoter who has worked with many stars, considers the Sunday slam a celebrity story. For him, it was a reminder that the very famous, like the very rich, are different from you and me. “They see things differently than regular people,” Glover said.
There’s no doubt that Smith was in a rage when he slapped Chris Rock. But there was also, Glover suspects, something performative about it.
“He hit it,” Glover said. “Then he literally adjusted his jacket, pulled his shoulders up, with a smug look on his face, like, ‘I showed the [expletive].’ Like he was in a scene.”
The other thing that has happened to Glover, as it has to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and – likely – other black viewers, is that this TV moment could negatively and unfairly affect perceptions of the African-American community.
“In one petulant stroke, he advocated violence, belittled women, insulted the entertainment industry and perpetuated stereotypes about the black community,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote in a column Tuesday. It’s something no white viewer has to think about, when they see a white dude punch another one on Jerry Springer.
Thank goodness, Glover said, Chris Rock kept his cool — and his class.
“What if Chris Rock was a black belt, unbeknownst to anyone, and his reaction was to mess Will Smith up with a quick kick? That would have escalated into something negative [expletive].”
Meanwhile – Will Smith or not Will Smith – “Pow!” will keep its pride of place in Glover’s dining room. He’s an art collector: he owns at least six pieces by LaMattina. And he loves this one.
“I’m happy to have all of Joe LaMattina’s paintings,” he said. “I just like what he does.”
Jim Beckerman is an entertainment and culture reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to its insightful reports on how you spend your free time, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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