So there we all were, maybe a couple thousand of us, sipping our choice of a recession champagne or an equally indelicate rose, watching two perspiring Australians, John Alexander and Phil Dent, swat tennis balls inside the narrow-gauge confines of the main gallery of Atlanta's Memorial Arts Center. The only brush with injury came when an errant overhead smash found the champagne hand of a matronly sort in purple chiffon standing at courtside. After a proper squeal she and everyone else settled down to "An Evening with Tennis and the Arts," staged by a fashionable local club owned by World Championship Tennis. The idea was to sell club memberships and encourage well-breds to support the WCT road show when it came to town.
To give the affair further credence, Wayland Moore, Atlanta's up-and-coming artist, was invited to show and sell tennis sketches and canvases. Moore offered a range from Riggs-King (Lobber vs. Libber, $2,500) to limited edition prints at $40 apiece.
The main gallery provided just enough open floor space for a roseate court and spectators, four and five deep, on either side. Others peered down from the mezzanine. Despite the close quarters, Alexander and Dent went at it straight up, courageously retrieving shots that skipped close to the audience with deft ground strokes. "At least you could lob," said Alexander, victorious in a tie breaker. "I've played tournaments where the ceiling was lower."
Meanwhile, Moore was also viewing the evening as risky business. He worried that his work would be upstaged. But it drew considerable attention. Moore is teetering on the edge of fame as a sports artist, "Four games out of first place behind league-leading LeRoy Neiman," as one friend puts it.
After serving as a package designer in South Carolina and a political cartoonist in Florida, where he was nominated for a Pulitzer, Moore became graphics director of the Atlanta Braves. He maintains that position on a retainer basis, probably the only artistin-residence of a sports franchise. A commission by the Astrodome to render the official Riggs-King portrait was, he thought, his ticket to the big time. But he was unable to present his canvas to the winner as planned because ABC ran out of air time.
Moore's work hangs in galleries in Houston, Los Angeles and Atlanta. His style has been described as somewhere between Neiman and a Nikon. He one-ups Neiman with his ability to convey motion and exhibits perfect lineal control. "Wayland's strong point is his realism," a Houston gallery owner said at the Atlanta show. "His talent is to capture the moment without freezing it."
While Neiman is a study in gaudy urbanity, Moore, who was born in Belton, S.O. 39 years ago, is a Good Old Boy who gets a kick out of shooting the white water rapids on Georgia's treacherous Chattooga River and canoeing through the Okefenokee.
By the time Alexander and Dent had finished their one-set exhibition, Moore had sold eight pieces and was satisfied. "All I really want," he had said, "is to achieve enough notoriety so that people will listen and put faith in what I have to say."
That "and a new sailboat."