Sports artist Jason Robichau’s contribution to the Super Bowl on its 50th birthday also benefits a charitable cause. That is a recurrent theme in a career that has put Robichau in personal contact with famous sports personalities from Mohammed Ali to Duke University’s “Coach K.”
Now a resident of Statesboro, Robichau flew Wednesday to northern California, where his Super Bowl 50 painting was to be unveiled Saturday evening at the NFL Honors. The painting, his largest so far, depicts the Most Valuable Player honorees from the past 49 Super Bowl games. The NFL chose Robichau from a group of artists suggested by the Deacon Jones Foundation, and proceeds from the sale of both original and prints will benefit the foundation’s work with inner-city youth, while Robichau receives a fee for painting it.
“I try to make it a win-win for everybody,” Robichau said. “To date, my paintings have raised right at half a million dollars for charities, so that’s something I’m very proud of.”
In a dozen years as a professional artist, Robichau, 35, has sold or commissioned paintings authorized by teams in the NFL, the NBA, Major League Baseball and various universities.
Originally from the Houston, Texas area, Robichau grew up playing “pretty much all of the sports,” but basketball was his favorite. He also drew his own baseball cards, already as a boy expressing his passion for sports in two-dimensional art.
When he and his high school basketball coach didn’t see eye-to-eye, Robichau ended up not playing his senior year. But when he was assigned to do some self-portraits for art class, his teacher suggested he try a style called illusionism, and the results won awards.
In Robichau’s version of this style, many painstakingly painted cells containing colors in various configurations make up an image, giving illusions of three-dimensionality or motion. It can be seen in “You’re Next,” one of his paintings of Mohammed Ali.
How he got started
At Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, Robichau obtained a bachelor’s degree in business, thinking he would need it to fall back on. But he also began to shape his art career. As a freshman, he reached out to Jim Kelly, then quarterback of the Buffalo Bills.
Kelly’s young son Hunter, who later died, had been diagnosed with Krabbe disease, a degenerative neurological disorder, and Robichau saw a TV special about the foundation Kelly had started to raise awareness and fund treatment.
“So I just called up and said, ‘Hey, I have no money but I can paint a picture,’ and that’s kind of how I got started,” Robichau said. “I did this painting for them to auction off, and got to fly up to Buffalo and meet him and, you know, it was just a really great experience, so I kind of just went from there.”
After college, Robichau took a job in corporate sales with the Houston Rockets. Working with the National Basketball Association team gave him some insight into how the sports world works, and he made it through nearly a year before deciding to pursue an art full-time.
“My goal was to never work for anybody, so I’ve made it all but one year,” he said.
The Houston area, and later Phoenix, Arizona, where his wife earned her PhD at Arizona State University, clearly positioned Robichau for some opportunities. Yao Ming, the seven-foot-six Chinese center then playing for the Rockies, bought one of his paintings.
Through forays into painting musicians, Robichau met the members of Fleetwood Mac and twice presented paintings to his youthful crush, Faith Hill.
To this day, Mohammed Ali remains probably the most famous person Robichau has met, he said. For about 10 years he did paintings for Ali’s charity event, Celebrity Fight Night, in Phoenix. The event often raises more than $10 million a year.
Other encounters with the famous have been a Robichau’s specific initiative. A lifelong Duke basketball fan, he has composed paintings of several of Duke’s teams over the years, most recently the 2015 national championship team. As a result, Duke’s renowned “Coach K,” Mike Krzewski, has purchased four or five of Robichau’s paintings.
Robichau also made the acquaintance of the great Boston Celtics coach Arnold “Red” Auerbach not long before his death in 2006. After Robichau presented Auerbach a print that he gave to one of his daughters, the long-retired coach asked for another for his other daughter. The artist obliged, and keeps a signed copy of Auerbach’s book he received in return.
Another appreciator of his work, Michael Wilbon, cohost of “Pardon the Interruption” on ESPN, bought the original of Robichau’s painting of the Dream Team that won the Olympic men’s basketball gold medal in 1992.
Most of these paintings are not in the illusionist style. They are in Robichau’s other style, painted in metallic acrylics, reflective paints that can change with the light.
His original paintings have sold for $2,000 to $50,000, he said. When he is commissioned to make a painting, the person or organization who commissioned it gets the original. But when Robichau makes a work of his own initiative, he can sell multiple prints of it, which sometimes go for $100 or less. Depending on the complexity, the paintings take him from two weeks to four months to produce.
His original Super Bowl painting measures 54 inches wide and 35 inches high. A print 10 feet wide is to be hung at the National Football League headquarters, Robichau said.
The painting includes images of the 43 past Super Bowl MVPs. The count is less than 49 because a few players have won the recognition multiple years, including three-time MVPs Tom Brady and Joe Montana. Arranging them all in a single image as if they gathered for it, the artist worked from multiple photos of many of the players.
“The Super Bowl painting took about three months, but it was a condensed three months,” Robichau said. “I was working 12- to 14-hour days, seven days a week on it.”
So he wishes he had had more time.
“But yeah, it’s a huge honor,” he said.
Charity at home
Robichau and his wife, Dr. Robbie Robichau, moved to Statesboro from Phoenix less than three years ago, when she joined the Georgia Southern University faculty. She is an assistant professor of public administration in the Institute for Public and Nonprofit Studies.
The Robichaus have two children, ages 4 years and 5 months. After volunteering with a one-day annual event that Fostering Bulloch hosted last summer for teenagers in foster care, the couple are working with the organization to plan a three-day camp for teen boys and a three-day camp for teen girls to be held this June at Gordonia-Alatamaha State Park in Reidsville.
They and Connection Church, where they are active, are also contributors to an effort to create a future facility for this new Teen Reach Adventure Camp and potentially other youth programs on the old Smithfield Golf Course property in southern Bulloch County. The Robichaus were volunteers for a similar camp in Phoenix and say they have found Statesboro area residents very willing to help.
“The community has been very supportive here,” said Robbie Robichau. “It’s really great to see people so willing to jump in and give you the shirt of their back to help out with something that’s for a group of people that often get underserved.”
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.