Compton Cricket Club: Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London

The group was set up in 1995 to get kids off the streets

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The Independent Culture

The part of Los Angeles often associated with gangs, guns and gangsta rap might appear an unlikely setting for the genteel game of cricket.

But a new exhibition of portraits of the Compton Cricket Club – a group set up in 1995 to get kids off the streets in one of LA’s most notorious districts – reveals a world where gang tattoos and cricket whites happily co-exist.

Edward Sutcliffe, a 37-year-old British artist, decided to document members of the team after winning the £6,000 BP Travel Award. He went to Los Angeles to meet members of Compton CC and subsequently completed a series of works, influenced by traditional cricket portraits, which are currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery.

“I wanted it to be like you were going down the Long Room at Lord’s,” he said. “Like portraits of W G Grace and Colin Cowdrey.”

The project came about by chance after he heard a short report about the club on BBC Radio 4 while working in his studio. “Everyone knows about Compton, about the connotations of gangsters and crime,” he said. “Then you have this apparent oxymoron of a genteel Victorian English game being played there. That was what attracted me.”

 

Mr Sutcliffe, who is based in London and Dubai, was a keen cricketer in his youth, playing at club level. “Cricket and art was the perfect fusion for me,” he said.

Compton CC was set up 20 years ago by the homelessness activist Ted Hayes and British movie producer Katy Haber to get disadvantaged young people off streets blighted by violence between the Bloods and the Crips.

“It was totally alien to them. Cricket is not on the radar in America, and they learnt from scratch. Now that they can hold their own, they know how to play the game,” Mr Sutcliffe said.

“It was a tough neighbourhood and cricket was so different. The founders especially stressed the principles of fair play. The kids got involved and came to love it.”

The team, dubbed the “Homies and the Popz”, has toured to the UK and Australia. They played with Brian Lara and met the Queen.

Mr Sutcliffe arranged to meet them through Ms Haber and spent hours talking, sketching and photographing individual members.

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Edward Sutcliffe decided to document members of the cricket team after winning the £6,000 BP Travel Award

Two sitters, Ricardo and Steve, had spent time in prison and had gang tattoos. Another, Danny, had a troubled upbringing until he joined the club.

“With the portrait of Ricardo, I wanted to combine the tattoos, those visual aspects of his presence, with a rather regal and traditional portrait – one that you might see at the MCC or even in the upstairs galleries of the National Portrait Gallery,” Mr Sutcliffe said. “It seems to encapsulate what Compton Cricket Club is about.”

Ricardo, who has since left Compton and moved to Illinois, is quoted in the exhibition as saying: “I had always believed that nice guys won’t make it in Compton, but cricket changed my life in a good way, in a positive way … kept me out of trouble.”

Another, Sergio, said: “I fell in love with [cricket] the first day I saw it … it was something I’d never seen before …. Cricket helped me understand that I was taking life for granted.”

Mr Sutcliffe worked for months on the portraits on his return to the UK. “I found the whole thing surreal. I’ve met amazing people and some of these guys were just wonderful. They were very welcoming and warm. I’ve tried to get that across,” he said.

Sadly, while he was there, the team had no fixtures. “We had a few knock-arounds but unfortunately there were no games,” the artist said. “I would have liked to have padded up and played as a guest member.”

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