By Amanda Koehn
Maxmillian Peralta’s signature posed portraits, often inspired by fashion and the idea of personal presentation, met a fitting opportunity when he was asked to paint NBA king LeBron James.
The 2021 Cleveland Institute of Art graduate and resident of Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood was commissioned to paint a portrait of James by his SpringHill Company for its inaugural magazine focused on art. After finishing the painting last year, the magazine was released by the entertainment and production company last month.
“I really felt like I had a lot of control of what I wanted to paint, and it does feel like a painting that I could say was an original of mine,” Peralta tells Canvas. He was profiled in this magazine last year as part of the Who’s Next series highlighting emerging artists.
The opportunity came about after a higher-up from James’ marketing agency bought prints from Peralta for her home while he was still a student at CIA in 2020. About a year later, the same person reached out about the magazine, Peralta says. He was sent a deck explaining the project and mission, and one slide noted they wanted Peralta to paint the cover.
“It was just someone seeing my work at the right time and them needing a painter, and her remembering me because my stuff is on her walls in her spot,” he says, adding that him being from Cleveland also helped.
He got to work on the portrait, taking inspiration from several photos of James. Responsible for its creative vision, Peralta included details like James’ four NBA championship rings, a custom-looking jacket with “LJ” monograms and a sneaker necklace. Its background references James’ tattoos.
Peralta’s work often explores the way people express themselves and their status through clothing.
“LeBron in a suit – that’s like modern day royalty,” says Peralta, 23. “That’s the main thing … it’s a timeless look that signifies pedigree and prestige and all that.”
He completed the painting last August and shipped it with the help of CIA’s Reinberger Gallery to the SpringHill offices in New York City. Then, it was a waiting game for the magazine’s release. It printed about 250 copies in a limited run, Peralta says, adding that he has two of them.
“It’s sort of a platform to empower different artists,” he says of the publication.
Peralta also met James at its launch party at a New York City club last month. After receiving an invitation, Peralta decided it would be a good opportunity to attend. Once he got there – after a close call with a canceled flight – he says people at the party knew his name and came up to compliment him on the portrait.
After seeing his painting displayed at the front of the club and while sipping on a cocktail, James’ team told Peralta the king wanted to meet him.
He and James posed for photos together and chatted naturally about Cleveland, Peralta says.
“His eyes sort of lit up and I feel like I found some common ground between us and we just ended up talking about Cleveland,” Peralta says. “… I felt like I actually related to this man to a degree that maybe a lot of other people in the room couldn’t. … (Cleveland) is just something me and him would understand.”
The team at SpringHill has taken an interest in Peralta’s artistic career, he says, and he plans to visit again in September and help with behind-the-scenes work at New York Fashion Week. He’s also working on new commissions in the sports world.
His painting will become a fixture at SpringHill’s offices, located in the Tribeca area of New York.
“I’m spending a lot of time keeping momentum about this, the magazine cover going,” Peralta says. “Just because something like this happens doesn’t mean you can rest on any laurels. You got to keep working. Some might say that this was a very lucky opportunity, but I’ve been told luck is when preparation meets opportunity. So I just need to keep working, and when the next thing comes along that I want to do, I’ll be ready for it if I keep painting.”