For the Freeport-based artist known as “Poor Rupert,” being commissioned to do a portrait of Walt “Clyde” Frazier initially had nothing to do with the exposure he might get, or the fundraising component that would come from signed replicas.
As a lifelong Knicks fan, there was one thing on his mind: being involved in some way with Frazier, an iconic figure in franchise history.
“I’m more of an artist than a businessman,” he said. “I just snatched it as ‘Yes!’ I didn’t even know what the details were yet . . . Then it just got cooler and cooler by the moment.”
The notion of a painting to mark Frazier’s recognition by the Basketball Hall of Fame for his work as an MSG Networks analyst — making him the first person so honored as both a player and broadcaster — started when an MSG Networks executive noticed a striking mural at Mission Taco restaurant in Huntington.
It is one of many large murals “Poor Rupert,” who also goes by the first name “Chris,” has done for restaurants and other businesses, both on interior and exterior walls, primarily on Long Island and in the city.
Chris got the gig and in Frazier saw a unique opportunity, given his colorful personality and clothing choices.
“As a visual artist, he gives you so much to work with, because he's got so much style and charisma,” Chris said.
So in addition to capturing Frazier’s likeness, the artist said, “The personality’s in the clothes. I said, we’ve got to have a montage of all his greatest outfits and make that the kinetic energy in the painting . . . It was a blast, man. It’s really cool.”
Chris, 41, who grew up in Baldwin, unveiled the painting, titled “Twice is Nice,” on the Madison Square Garden court before a Hornets-Knicks game on Oct. 26.
“When I unveiled it, I was like, please don't let me hear crickets,” he said. “The decibel level went up. That was a great feeling. Clyde looked at it and I saw his eyes light up and he kind of leaned into it really quick and put his thumbs up like he couldn't wait to get next to it . . . It was just so weird. I’d never been in front of that many people before.”
Then Chris got something even better — one-on-one time with Frazier as the two sat down to sign 110 replicas of the painting to be sold starting Friday to benefit the Gardens of Dreams Foundation and the Walt Frazier Youth Foundation.
“While we were signing, it was a little bit of a tedious process,” Chris said. “So we had some time together. And he was just telling me old stories about the NBA, what's different from now and then, some of the hardships they had to face when they would go out of town and just funny stories.”
Chris said he is pleased with the charitable aspect of the project. But that was not the initial attraction.
“Honestly, my first selfish thing wasn't even the exposure,” he said. “I just wanted to stand on center court at Madison Square Garden . . . When I found out about the Garden of Dreams, that kind of took over the whole motivation. But my first selfish motivation was to stand on the floor of the Garden and meet Clyde.”