Since the death of soon-to-be NBA Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant in January, people all over the world have mourned and paid tribute to the legend, but a local Enterprise artist found a unique way to do so recently.
Enterprise native Tyler McGowan was hit hard by the death of a player he – and millions of others – looked up to.
“It really touched me and had me down for like two days,” McGowan said of Bryant’s passing. “You normally feel that kind of way about a relative that passes away. It just gave me a terrible feeling that I really hadn’t ever experienced about a celebrity death before.
“You always mourn them, you don’t know them personally but they’ve been in our lives for so long. I said I have to do something before I end up in the hospital for anxiety or something.”
McGowan said that growing up he used art as a way to express himself.
“As a kid my mom kept me protected and kept me sheltered away from the streets,” he said. “So, what I would do is go back into my room and draw. That was kind of my outlet to express myself. When I could come out (with a drawing) I would receive the attention I would crave and the praise I thought I should have. That’s where drawing took me.”
McGowan became proficient at a difficult and time-consuming form of art called stippling, which simulates varying degrees of shading by using small dots. Throughout high school McGowan won a number of awards – and even sold some art – but hadn’t really done a lot of artwork since his senior year in high school.
“I’m what you would call a moody artist,” he said. “I can’t really draw like that unless I’m in a mood. Normally that mood is pain or stress or just feeling emotional about something.”
Bryant’s death became a catalyst for McGowan to get back into his art.
“I took my pain and turned it into my passion,” he emphasized.
McGowan started his drawing off with an image of Bryant’s daughter Gianna (aka Gigi) – who also passed away in the crash – and then added an iconic image of Bryant dunking on top of her. Surrounding them McGowan added more pictures of the father and daughter combination.
“I wanted to make a dot for everyone that’s mourning in the world for Kobe Bryant and his daughter’s death,” McGowan said. “I wanted to express how much love Kobe and Gigi had for each other with basketball. Almost like the story of love and basketball.”
McGowan also hid some Easter eggs in the painting, which included the image of a Black Mamba – Bryant’s nickname – inside the basketball that Bryant is dunking as well as Bryant’s logo in Gigi’s jersey.
McGowan said he also wanted to pay homage to the other seven people that passed away in the crash. Those people included retired baseball coach John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Payton Chester, Sarah Chester, Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan.
“I was looking at other people’s (tributes) that had been done and I wondered why no one was incorporating the other people that died in the crash,” McGowan said. “I understand that Kobe and Gigi’s names and who they are kind of overshadowed the other people that passed away.
“People sort of act like they’re just ‘regular’ people, so it doesn’t get as much coverage, but if you look at it like Kobe was special then they couldn’t have been just ‘regular’ either because they were close to him.”
McGowan found a collage of the others that died in the crash and filled in the rest of the project with their faces.
McGowan said that even before completing the project he was getting offers to buy it.
“I kept getting offers from people wanting to buy it but there’s just sometimes when an artist gets into his work, especially with something like this that’s so time consuming and means so much,” he said.
McGowan’s cousin Jordan – who was a star football and basketball player at Enterprise – graduated from Alabama with an art degree and after the passing of hip hop star Nipsey Hussle last year he featured a painting in honor of him at Piney Woods Arts Festival.
That has inspired him to get his own booth at Piney Woods.
“I had never gotten my own booth - outside of the one the school had – and seeing my cousin do that, he inspired me to go back on my own,” McGowan said. “I want people to see this. I want Vanessa (Bryant) to see it or Shaq to see it or others in the NBA to see it if they can. I just want it to be seen.”