On the list of Texas sports icons, James Harden is right at the top. Mostly it’s because he’s one of the most exciting and dominant players in the NBA, but it’s partly because of that beard. The Rockets sell T-shirts around it; other companies use it to sell candy; it’s the beard that launched a thousand memes. And for Croatian artist Filip Peraić, it’s a genuine inspiration.
The New York Times reported this week on how Harden’s beard has come to redefine Peraić’s career. The thirty-year-old artist from the basketball-obsessed city of Zadar created the James Harden Illustrated project, a collection of 26 interpretations of the same profile-view portrait of Harden’s face. Some of the images interpret Harden in the style of various artists: Jackson Pollock, Wassily Kandinsky, Vincent van Gogh, Katsushika Hokusai, Matt Groening. Others use his visage as a setting for an image of Louis Armstrong or a curated bouquet. In one image, Harden’s beard is home to a whale; in another, his face becomes a weather map, with the beard transformed into an oncoming storm emerging from the Southeast, just as a hurricane might approach Houston from the Gulf.
“I’m thinking about James Harden’s head constantly,” Peraić told the paper. “It’s my passion project.”
Harden himself is a fan of the artist’s work. He’d been interviewed in front of a print in the past, and as the project garnered new attention on social media, he expressed his appreciation for the series on Twitter, singling out some of the images, including the Bob Dylan homage that Peraić created.
Harden—and his beard, naturally—may be Peraić’s primary muse, but he’s not the only Texan of whom the artist has crafted a portrait. In addition to the Rockets’ star player (and league MVP candidate), Peraić was tapped last fall to create similar images for Fort Worth retro-soul hero Leon Bridges’s Good Thing tour.
Fans of Harden or Bridges can get an inside look at Peraić’s process through a video made for the Bridges series. The work is fascinating, whimsical, and impressive—a perfect fit for the characters who inspire the artist.