Reuben Dangoor Is Taking His London Roots to the Basketball Court

Reuben Dangoor can’t be boxed in. The visual artist first went viral in 2015 with his regal interpretations of U.K. grime artists, depicting D Double E as a military officer and Skepta riding a horse with the Union Jack in hand. Since then, the Londoner has pushed his love for music and sports across projects in collaboration with the likes of his beloved Arsenal F.C. and England’s national football squad. Most recently, Dangoor worked with adidas for its new Predator football boot, as well as a collaborative FIFA 22 in-game jersey with David Beckham. And while consistently working on projects with a global reach, his British roots have always come first.

Dangoor is now collaborating with the NBA for the sports franchises’ Creator Series. The new program is a celebration of the league’s 75th anniversary, welcoming a diverse range of artists from all corners of Europe to present a concatenation of original artworks that have been commissioned by the NBA.

The series of artwork releases started earlier in the month, with each Tuesday welcoming a new piece from the Creator Series collective. Now, Dangoor has presented his painting, with the release coming in the middle of drops from Greek, Spanish, French and Italian artists. “I think the project as a whole has bridged a gap around the world, taken the British essence and weaved it into something that feels like it’s a part of the NBA and American sports,” Dangoor told Hypebeast.

As basketball continues to grow in the U.K., Dangoor’s piece for the Creator Series celebrated the influence that former South Sudanese-British basketball player Luol Deng has had on the game. The piece of art shows Deng hanging from a basketball ring in a Chicago Bulls jersey – the team that the British player secured all-star status for in 2012.

With this in mind, Hypebeast caught up with Ruben Dangoor to talk all about the NBA’s Creator Series, his interest in American sports, and more.

Hypebeast: How excited are you that your work for the NBA Creator Series is finally out for people to see?

Reuben Dangoor: I’m buzzing, it’s a really cool project. The NBA explained that there were artists from all different countries who were getting involved along with players from different regions who were representing where they’re from. So, it’s a really nice idea as a way to merge a mix of styles and a whole bunch of artists. I feel like the work was completed a long time ago, and there was no rollout and the next thing I’m seeing loads of different art from the project being announced. I’m really excited to have a piece that’s in and amongst it all.

What is your relationship like with basketball and how have you found working with the NBA?

I’m a sports fan in general – I’m a massive football fan. Basketball is one of those sports that I was very into when I was younger. I used to go to British basketball games and watch teams like the Sheffield Sharks and then I got into some of the players of that era. During that time it was the Portland Trailblazers. But, I didn’t really have that much access to it — they didn’t show too much on TV at the time, but I did collect basketball cards. To be honest, I didn’t have the same relationship with basketball as I do with football. But what I really love is the fact that art and sport are crossing over so much now, but during the come up of my career, it wasn’t happening as much.

Now I think it’s really rich, especially because the fan base is so passionate and the franchises are so big, there’s a huge scope for some really cool creative concepts. For me, with the NBA – the scale of it is huge – it’s really nice to scale down into the details. A lot of the work that I do is detail-oriented and the fans are able to pick up on the little touches. I think that sport has a combination of that history, fan culture, and pure athleticism and brilliance on the court or pitch. There’s a real good fertile creative ground to be able to do some good stuff.

As a very U.K.-centric artist, have you used this opportunity to bridge the gap between Britain and America?

I definitely think that the worlds between the U.K. and the USA feel closer than ever before. I think the NBA approached me because my take on things is from that British and very London perspective. The thing with basketball is that it’s so American by association, that you can’t help but bridge that gap by putting a player in a certain environment. What was interesting to me is that I didn’t know too much about the history of British players within the game, I just thought it was such an all-American sports franchise.

It’s interesting now because even in football, you get the odd MLS player filtering through, so it’s kind of similar on the NBA side of things. There are not a lot of British players over there, but they are there, which is why it’s interesting from a British perspective. I've also learned that there are amazing Greek and French basketball players. So I think the project as a whole has bridged the gap and taken the British essence and weaved it into something that feels like it’s a part of the NBA and American sports. To me, it’s been cool because a lot of the stuff I work on is very British, so it’s nice to have that transatlantic vibe in there and I would definitely like to do more.

When you can find that link between an artist and a musician, it’s a beautiful thing.

How will you translate your Britishness into more Americanized work?

I think a lot of the things I enjoy about British culture and use within my work people will appreciate overseas. Whether that’s working with brands or artists, I can utilize the same things that people enjoy about my work over here and see if it translates. I think it would be fun to do more of it, especially on the music front. I think that’s where the transition would feel very seamless by collaborating with American musicians. Equally, with sport, it feels like it’s a very universal language because of the fan culture and the universal lines that run throughout all sports.

What similarities do music, sport and art have?

In my opinion, performing is one. Particularly sports and music, they both have that performance aspect and I think a lot of art is a way of capturing that performance in that sport. Whether that is figurately or abstract. Art can also be a visualizer within music, that’s why I enjoy working with musicians a lot because when I’m hearing stuff, I’m seeing stuff and that audio-visual synergy is a really strong one that I love working with. Personally, I have such a passion for sport, that my head goes to the same place as the people on the court or field and it makes me think of interesting ways of being able to interpret that. Music forms interpretation for both art and sport. Athletes will listen to music in the changing rooms before they perform and I think sport curates a lot of identities for musicians.

For example, AJ Tracey is synonymous with Tottenham Hotspur, and Loyle Carner is a massive Liverpool fan. It’s like a badge that people wear with pride. There are also so many lyrics that reference sport and I think it’s one massive 360 between them all. For me, a lot of my work is based on the things that I'm interested in and even if I didn't do art, I would still be interested because I’m a fan. It just so happens now that I’ve been doing it long enough that I’m lucky enough to be involved in projects like this.

Audio-visual synergy is a really strong one that I love working with.

Finally, what do you think people can do more of to express their interests in art?

It’s a tricky one because I think that art collecting is quite a personal thing. There’s always a price tag involved so lots of different people will have different kinds of art, and they may not be completely open to sharing it. I think you get a lot of artists who have that visual artistic viewing, I think single and album artwork within music is one thing for sure, there are certain artists – slowthai for example – [where] you can see in their videos and album artwork that there’s a clear understanding of what they want or what they like. Tyler, the Creator, is another great example –working with visual artists as collaborations and I think it says a lot about the artists. So sometimes an art collection is a personal thing and it's an investment. But for me, I think it’s really cool when musicians have an identity with art. I did something with Arlo Parks recently and that art was shown at the back of the stage when they performed at the 02. So, when you can find that link between an artist and a musician, it’s a beautiful thing.