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Mudville: July 23, 2024 9:45 am PDT

The Rediscovery

BY KEVIN CZERWINSKI

Glen Kertes appreciates where he is in life and there is a certain simplicity to that outlook, especially when considering what it took for the New Jersey native to get to this point.

Kertes, 57, had a life-altering experience more than two decades ago and it was that terrifying scenario that brought about not only impactful physical changes but altered his approach to life, his work and his art. Kertes, who still lives in South Jersey, is one of the most talented sports artists in what has become a crowded field in recent years.

His work stands out on its own but when you get to know him and couple the strength and courage he has displayed over the last 20 years with the pieces he continues to produce, it quickly becomes obvious that you’re not only dealing with a talented artist, but also a kind and caring human being.

Kertes’ journey has been complicated. His love of art was evident at an early age but a narrow-minded professor at was then known as Trenton State University [the name has since changed to The College of New Jersey] pushed him away from his passion.

It took more than a dozen years for that passion to become reignited but not before he went through a life-altering series of brain surgeries that temporarily left him without the use of his right side. It took exhausting rehabilitation but Kertes, who teaches at a South Jersey high school, now has 99 percent of the function in his arm and 85 percent function in his leg, allowing him to continue with his passion for art and his love of teaching.

“It definitely changed me,” said Kertes, who lives with Michele, his wife of 23 years, and their 19- and 16-year-old sons. “I look at how my appreciation for things has changed, my ability to communicate with my students and teach them. If I could pass something on to someone that could change their life then I get satisfaction out of that.”

Fans of Kertes work, however, are also quite satisfied that he rediscovered art. Along the way. He has drawn or painted about 500 portraits depicting stars from all the major sports ranging in size from 11X14 to 9X12 and even as large as 24X38. His work is all traditional and consists of pencil sketches, mixed mediums, alcohol markers and acrylics. It usually takes Kertes about 12 hours to complete a piece but his larger pieces can require up to 40 hours to finish. His work can be found at his website, on X and on his Instagram account.

The lines in Kertes work are sharp and clean. His knowledge of the subject matter also shines through, whether he’s drawing former Red Sox slugger David Ortiz rounding the bases or Don Mattingly following the flight of another upper deck blast at Yankee Stadium.

Upon seeing his work, it’s difficult to believe that when Kertes was in college, he grew disenchanted with art.

“I liked to draw things and when I was younger, I was definitely fascinated with the military, drawing all these war scenes and tanks and stuff,” said Kertes, who also played safety on the TSU football team. “Then I started playing Pop Warner football and started drawing football plays from above. I started playing street so I drew goalies. Every time I got into something I would draw it. That’s when I went to school for graphic design.

“During my junior year at Trenton State I had my own interpretation and artist’s view. My teacher had his view. Everyone would present their projects and all 12 projects followed his direction. He and I didn’t see eye-to-eye. I listened to him about technique and that kind of stuff but the finished project is what I see. He told me I should quit and that this wasn’t the right line of work for me. So, I basically went through the motions my last year and a half at Trenton State and allowed that one person to dictate my future for a while.”

Claudia Letonja-Wallis

Kertes ended up going into the family coffee vending business after college – he also attended Rutgers – and ran the company ‘for six or seven years’ before turning to working as a recruiter in New York City. He then moved onto the IT field before having surgery in 2000.

“I had a malformation on my brain and they found it by accident,” he said. “I was in the hospital and was having issues because I was losing weight. I was scheduled for a CT on my stomach but they did one on my head so I got lucky. I probably would have died of an aneurysm.”

While radiation rid him of the malformation, it left scarring which led to Kertes developing a seizure condition that affected his motor skills. Surgeons removed a portion of his brain to clear it of the damaged tissue. Now all that remains are small seizures in his shoulder.

It wasn’t long after the surgery that Kertes decided to get into teaching. His father was a long-time gym teacher and encouraged him to switch professions, pointing out that education is “recession free.” Kertes works in special education in addition to working as a jobs coach for students who have graduated and are looking to enter the work force. He doesn’t, however, want to teach art.

“I like having the freedom of not being told what I have to teach,” he said.

Kertes does bring his art into school in a way. His work usually sells for between $200 and $400 but he has done commission work for as much as $2,500. He donates a portion of what he makes to the program at which he works in school. He’s donated $3,500 in the last year alone.

School, however, leaves him with precious little time to work on his art. Kertes says he has a “decent commute” to work and that sometimes he is lucky to get in two hours of drawing and painting a night. During the summer, however, he can be at his table for an entire day.

“If I am in a really good groove, I won’t stop,” said Kertes, who got back into art when his sons were younger and asked him to draw superheroes from the worlds of Marvel and DC Comics. “When I am drawing and start feeling that things have changed or how I look at things has changed, I know I’ll need to shut myself down or I’ll ruin the piece. I’ve made that mistake before where I rush to get something done and it doesn’t come out the way it should. Sometimes I have told people that I am not happy with something and I need to redo it. If I’m not happy, I’m just not going to sell it to them.”

The effort in care Kertes puts into his commission work is evident in how he approaches what jobs he will. He only accepts a certain number of commissions so he doesn’t have a huge backlog like some other artists. Kertes said that he never has more than five commissions in the works.

While that can be problematic at times, especially when he is working with sports promoters who want their commissioned pieces so they can be signed, Kertes isn’t in a rush. There’s no need to. He’s taking his time and enjoying where he is.

“I do wonder [sometimes] if things would have been different,” Kertes said about the twists and turns his life has taken. “I can’t harbor on the past, though. With everything I have gone through and where I am now, every day is a great day for me.”

Covered a Mets-Astros doubleheader in 1987 and never looked back. Spent eight years at MLB.com, more than half of that as the Mets beat writer. Had one beat writer from another newspaper threaten to kill him in an elevator at the winter meetings. The other half was as MiLB.com’s staff historian. Worked three years in Philly at Comcast covering the Phillies’ minor leagues and doing weekly TV spots. Author of the popular blog The Bobblist, which covers everything A to Z in the world of bobbleheads. Really.

Comments
  • Fantastic story and wonderfully written! I’ve been a fan of Glenn’s work but had no idea about the story regarding his health issues and his experience with art school. What an amazing story of his overcoming bad situations and continuing to do what he loves. You can absolutely see the passion in his work. Thanks for sharing even more about an artist I already looked up to!

    June 25, 2024
  • I’m looking forward to hiring you to do a portrait of me. I’m buying a business and it will be a pretty cool conversation piece. Are you come a long way from the 10th Travers. I remember the time I think you knocked a guy out of a football game you hit him so hard. Did not even know you were from South Jersey. I’m sure you are glad and all your clients and students are glad you did not give up art based on one person’s opinion.
    Paul Allamby

    June 25, 2024
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