Meet Kickliy, the man documenting Minnesota sports one painting at a time
He doesn’t want to be the story. He simply wants to help tell it.
Any time the Vikings offense scored a touchdown on Thanksgiving night — whether it was Justin Jefferson’s 6-yard reception at the goal line, T.J. Hockenson’s 1-yard catch near the pylon, or Adam Thielen’s 15-yard grab all alone in the back corner of the end zone — it wasn’t long before a painting of the play popped up on social media.
There wasn’t much to each post, nothing that brought attention to the person who created the work of art. Just an incredibly detailed painting with a brief description of what happened.
That’s the way local artist Kickliy likes it. He doesn’t want to be the story. He simply wants to help tell it.
“All I do is post the picture,” said Kickliy, the official team artist for the Vikings, who prefers to go by his mononym. “I post and I ghost.”
Anyone who is even slightly invested in Minnesota sports is probably familiar with Kickliy’s work.
He literally live paints sporting events, documenting some of the biggest moments in real time, while maintaining a sense of accuracy that he prides himself on. His following on Twitter and Instagram — @KickliySports — continues to grow with each painting he produces.
Though the Vikings are the only professional sports team in town with an official partnership, he bought season tickets to the Twins this summer so he could paint from their games, and he has been spotted in the crowd when the Timberwolves and Wild are playing at home.
This isn’t something Kickliy planned to do with his life. As much as he loved sports growing up in Inver Grove Heights, he never thought he would work so closely with the local teams. He taught himself how to draw at a young age, and before “oopsing into sports” as he puts it, he worked almost exclusively with comic books.
A car accident nearly a decade ago changed everything. He doesn’t like to get into details of that dark time. He says he has worked through his past trauma and chooses not to relive it.
“I try not to get into it because I don’t want to go there,” Kickliy said. “All I’ll say is it was the worst thing that ever happened to me and the best thing that ever happened to me.”
After recovering from the physical injuries, the mental anguish that followed took a toll. When he went to his studio in Minneapolis following the car accident, he felt like he was going to pass out. He was losing part of himself and started to feel depressed.
“That was my identity before the car accident,” Kickliy said. “That was me. I built myself into an artist. Not being able to do it put me in a dark spiral.”
In an effort to jump-start his system, he decided on a whim to take a trip to Paris. That’s where he started to reinvent himself. He spent time at museums, studying renowned artists like Monet, Picasso and Rembrandt, among others, trying to figure out how he could leave his mark.
“I decided to treat it like I knew nothing about art,” Kickliy said. “I asked basic questions when I was there and built myself back up while learning from all these amazing artists.”
He estimates he now has been back to Paris upwards of 15 times. He painted and painted and painted while he was there, finding beauty in the simplest places, while rediscovering his passion for art. That made it difficult whenever he returned to Minneapolis. He searched for inspiration and couldn’t always find it.
Until the 2020 State Fair got cancelled due to COVID. He still wanted to feel like he was a part of it so he decided to paint scenes from old sketchbooks. He followed it up by painting the 2021 State Fair live after people were allowed back in.
“I was there and it was like, ‘This feels like Paris again,’ ” Kickliy said. “Then it ended, and I felt like I was just getting warmed up. I found something that I loved, and I didn’t want to wait a full year to do it again. It was like, ‘What do I do now?’ ”
He eventually found his muse at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. His brother had season tickets to the Wild and invited him to a March 26 game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He brought his sketchbook to the game, and when Wild captain Jared Spurgeon scored the game-winner in overtime, he immediately got to work.
As soon as Kickliy got home that night, he painted the scene from his sketchbook. He was hooked.
“I wasn’t planning it like, ‘I’m going to start painting the games,’ ” Kickliy said. “After going to that first game and doing sketches, I was like, ‘OK, I want to see if I can paint this.’ It’s easier to sketch because I’m dealing with a line. It’s much harder to paint.”
That challenge excited Kickliy, so he started bringing his paints to games. He used to try to paint everything he saw as soon as it happened. He quickly realized that wasn’t the best way of going about it.
“I’ve relaxed a little bit on trying to get it super specific,” Kickliy said. “It’s more or less being there for the moment that matters.”
He does everything in real time whenever he’s at a game. As soon as a memorable play happens, his paintbrush hits the canvas. He doesn’t have a photographic memory, so if he can’t remember the exact details of a play, he scraps it and moves on.
“I’ve got a stack of plays that aren’t finished,” Kickliy said. “I’d rather not paint it if I’m not going to get it right.”
As his following has started to take off, Kickliy has been approached by various people about potentially working together. He has remained guarded throughout the process, so that the essence of his artwork isn’t diluted. As much as he appreciates people reaching out, he wants to remain true to himself.
“My intent is from here, not from here,” Kickliy said pointing to his heart, then his head. “If the paintings are from my heart, that will have more charm than anything I can do from my head. I’m doing it because I love it, and I want to see how it grows naturally, so I’m not necessarily pushing it hard. I’m just doing the work and posting it on social media, and I’m OK with whatever happens.”
There isn’t a specific path for Kickliy to follow as he continues to make a name for himself. He’s blazing his own trail as the only person doing this type of work. There’s something appealing about being a small part of a big moment.
“I’m not there to promote myself,” Kickliy said. “I’m just trying to capture the moment. That’s what it comes down to. I don’t see myself being important on my end.”
Nonetheless, some of his recent work has made waves on social media. He painted Jefferson’s impossible, falling-backward catch that helped lead the Vikings over the Bills several weeks ago in Buffalo, and that got some pretty good traction. Now the next step for Kickliy is finding the beauty in last week’s loss to the Cowboys.
“There might be even more beauty in sadness than in happiness,” Kickliy said. “That emotion is what I’m after.”
He found that at a recent Gophers football game at Huntington Bank Stadium. He was leaving the field in the aftermath of the U’s heartbreaking loss to Iowa and spotted coach P.J. Fleck consoling a few players on the team. He took a mental snapshot of the scene and immediately got to work.
“I don’t want to say that this is all I’m going to do for the rest of my life,” Kickliy said. “I might because I love it. There’s challenges within this and I haven’t come to the end of the challenge yet. As long as I keep loving it and I keep doing things that are challenging, then that seems like a good path to be on.”
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