The World Is His Canvas

The World Is His Canvas

Back when sports illustration was booming in the 1980s and ’90s, Rex DeLoney was on his way to becoming one of the most prodigious artists in the industry.

Long before he came to CWU to pursue a master’s degree in teaching, DeLoney (’00) became known for his paintings of pro and college sports figures, including Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley, Shawn Kemp, Drew Bledsoe, and Ken Griffey Jr.

His wall of fame also includes the likes of Phil Jackson, John Paxson, Horace Grant, Napoleon Kauffman, Jeffrey Leonard, Dale Ellis, and Kenny Easley—just to name a few.

Among DeLoney’s most notable sports illustrations were the multiple inside cover paintings he created for Beckett Sports Magazine. He also created commissioned paintings for members of the Seattle Seahawks, Seattle SuperSonics, and the Bledsoe family.

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Light Unto My Path

“I knew Scottie Pippen when I was at the University of Central Arkansas, and he would put my paintings on his wall,” said DeLoney, who is now approaching the end of his teaching career in his hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas. “One year I did a collage of the Bulls before they won the title and got everyone to sign it—even Michael Jordan. … I kept that one.”

In 1992, DeLoney was recognized as one of the top sports artists in the country for the painting of Barkley. Around that time, NBC Television featured him for a series of illustrations he did of Kemp, one of the Sonics’ stars during their NBA Finals run in 1996.

His work was displayed at poster shops and restaurants in Seattle and Yakima, and he was getting paid handsomely for his work. DeLoney’s passion for sports illustration was starting to show significant promise, but as the genre’s popularity began to wane in the 1990s, he chose to focus his attention on teaching.

“After freelancing for a few years, I thought it was going to blossom into something really big,” he said. “My sports illustration work was really taking off in the early to mid-’90s, but I couldn’t devote all of my energy to it because I was teaching.”

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Former Seattle SuperSonics star Shawn Kemp

DeLoney moved to Washington in 1989 and worked as a paraprofessional in the Yakima School District for three years. One day, former Eisenhower High School art teacher Chuck Naasz invited him to present his sports illustrations to his class. The session went so well that Naasz encouraged DeLoney to go back to school and earn his teaching certificate.

“Chuck was really pivotal in my decision to become a teacher, and he’s a big reason I chose to go to Central,” he said, adding that his mother—a high school teacher in Arkansas for 30 years—also inspired him to go the teaching route.

After completing his master’s degree in Ellensburg, DeLoney returned to Yakima as an art teacher and football coach. In 2002, he went home to Little Rock, where he is now in his 34th year as an educator.

“One of the things I’ve always said is I’m an artist educator,” he said. “I was born an artist and I’m from a family of artists. And even when I retire in a couple of years, I will continue to create art. It’s just who I am.”

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When DeLoney isn’t in the classroom, he can usually be found at his studio in North Little Rock, in the same location where his parents owned an antique shop for many years. His mom gifted him the building in 2020 and he converted it into a studio and gallery called Studio Henry.

He’s still a sports fan at heart, but his artistic inspiration nowadays is derived from religious themes, historical events, family settings, and issues that are influential in society.

“As I matured, my art evolved into what I’m doing now—things that are relevant in today’s culture,” he said.

One of the recent exhibitions DeLoney is most proud of is titled “Brothers By One,” which depicts Black athletes throughout history who have fought for social justice. He drew inspiration for the piece from historical icons, such as Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Muhammad Ali, and modern-day social justice advocates like Colin Kaepernick and Jaylen Brown.

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Not My Anthem: Wayne Collette and Vince Matthews at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.

Another of his most memorable recent works is titled “A Heated Moment,” which depicts the parallels between Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin, two African American boys from different eras who were killed unjustifiably.

“I like creating works of art that speak to these issues and put them out there for people to see,” DeLoney said. “I really enjoy sharing the history of African American culture, and I have been told that my work stands out due to my use of color and the messages that come across. I want my art to be impactful, and these paintings tend to leave a lasting impression.”

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