Illustrator for Super Bowl XXII Has Artistic View of Action on Gridiron

Times Staff Writer

When the Redskins and Broncos kick off Super Bowl XXII in Jack Murphy Stadium, Lisa French plans to be across town at the San Diego Museum of Art, looking at a Gauguin or an Andrew Wyeth.

But at one time or another, the thousands in the stadium and the millions watching on television will be looking at a Lisa French.

French, a 31-year-old who says she is ambivalent toward football--"I went to a high school game once"--created the realistic art featured on the Super Bowl's programs, posters and tickets.

Combining elements that symbolize San Diego's past and present, the Long Beach resident grouped various landmarks around an image of the National Football League's sterling silver Vince Lombardi Trophy, which is traditionally presented to the game's winning team.

"Doing a job of this size didn't freak me out or intimidate me," French said. "But it is something I wanted to do because it was such a neat project. . . . It is the biggest thing that I have ever done that the general public would recognize."

French lives in a modest, one-bedroom house at the base of Signal Hill and is a straight-forward sort, without any tinge of artistic temperament. Her back-room studio is bright but Spartan and, like the rest of her house, minus any clutter.

Hanging from the walls are several of her works, including a striking piece commissioned by the Mark Taper Forum depicting in subtle browns and grays two lovers embracing at the bottom of a stairwell.

A 1981 graduate of California State University, Long Beach, with a bachelor's degree in illustration, French is a free-lancer. But she has also worked in advertising and as a medical illustrator.

In her Super Bowl painting, the Lombardi trophy is framed by the ornate archway of a Spanish mission. A Navy jet soars over sailboats in the distance, the Point Loma Lighthouse stands on the horizon. And in the foreground, the stadium rises by a vineyard.

"There really is no such arch," French said. "It was created by me. On the one side (chiseled in the arch) is Cabrillo and on the other is Junipero Serra. Above the arch is a rendering of California Indians. And although it is compacted, there really was such a view looking down from the Mission (San Diego de Alcala) before the area (Mission Valley) was developed. I have seen old photographs of it."

French was hired for the project in August, 1986, by David Boss, the NFL's creative director. She had done several lesser works for him and he said he was impressed by the intricate detail that her art captured.

"Lisa has a tremendous visual concept where she is able to take an idea that is verbally given to her and then fully develop it," Boss said. "The painting she did for us this year is as good as we have ever had it. Everybody, from the top on down, has been very pleased."

Different Artist Each Year

Boss said he uses a different artist every year to give each painting a new feel. He selects the person from illustrators who have already done some other kind of artwork for the league. He said the Super Bowl work must contain features synonymous with the host city, but the focus has to be on the trophy.

"Next year the game will be in Miami and the artist for that one is painting a sunrise coming up on the Atlantic Ocean," Boss said.

French worked 15 hours a day on the Super Bowl project, and the painting took six days. The most difficult part, she said, was putting the arch's reflection on the trophy.

"They obviously weren't going to let me borrow the trophy," French said. "So I went out and bought a plastic football and a Mylar balloon. I cut up the balloon and carefully wrapped the material around the ball. I then made a paper miniature of the archway and by doing that I was able to see how the light would reflect."

French declined to say how much she was paid by the NFL: "I don't like talking about the business side."

But she did say "it will be nice to get the name recognition. I am sure a lot of art directors will notice."

Will Attend Banquet

French is going to San Diego for the weekend--"Even though I can't find a hotel room"--to attend a Saturday night banquet the league is throwing for its creative staff and associates.

The league included two $100 tickets to the game as part of her payment, but she gave them to a friend--for free.

"My brother hates me," French joked. "He said, 'How can you have two tickets and not give them to me?' "

As for herself, French has no interest in the game. Instead, she is going to go back to the city's museum, which was swamped with people during her last visit.

"I figure the streets will be empty," French said. "All I know is that I am staying away from the stadium with all of the traffic and the crowds."

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