Even a 15-foot wall in a Brooklyn, N.Y., art studio is no match for one of the NHL’s most thunderous open-ice checkers.
The creative Trouba doesn’t use a brush. Instead, his instrument is his entire body.
Trouba suits up in his hockey equipment, smothered in oil and acrylic paint, and, as he does on the ice, launches himself forward. The target is linen or canvas, fastened to a mattress that’s intended to protect not only Trouba but also the sheetrock behind it, which is in turn supported by aluminum framing.
Trouba’s friend and mentor, a fellow artist named Michael Geschwer, donated one of the walls in his studio for Trouba to, frankly, go to town and create all sorts of impressive art.
“We turned his studio into basically the Kool-Aid guy going through the wall, which we now have a contractor coming out to give us a quote to fix the wall … and the neighbor’s wall, which is cracked,” Trouba said, howling.
He’s not kidding.
“We thought it was just in our studio until I got a knock on the door from my very understanding draper-designer neighbor, who pointed out his wall was split from the floor to the ceiling,” Geschwer said.
Not long after Trouba was traded from Winnipeg in 2019, a close friend of Geschwer introduced Trouba and his wife, Kelly, to Geschwer’s wife, Cortnee Glasser. She’s a real-estate broker with Sotheby’s. Cortnee and Kelly became good friends, and Cortnee helped the Troubas find their home in Tribeca when they were eventually ready to buy.
Trouba, 29, and Geschwer, 50, became pals along the way, too.
Geschwer is a former lawyer turned New York Stock Exchange floor trader. He left Wall Street in 2011 to become an artist. His work has focused primarily on large-scale oil painting. The themes have ranged from Greek and Roman mythology to a personal mythology of New York. He’s currently working on a series of “symbolic paintings on unintended consequences.”
Trouba showed interest, and Geschwer gave him some art books and names of artists to research.
“I started painting like two summers ago, I guess, now,” Trouba said. “Originally it started as just kind of a fun thing. The goal when I first started painting was to paint something that my wife would allow me to hang in the house. It’s still not hanging in the house. She claimed it’s going in the nursery, but it’s still not hanging.”
When Trouba started to show more and more interest, Geschwer invited the defenseman to use a section of one of the walls at his studio.
“I was not expecting someone who could actually draw and paint,” he said. “Jacob had no formal training, but the basics were already there. His work was personal and symbolic, and he was interested in learning more. We worked together at the beginnings of the past few summers. I am not an art teacher but agreed to teach him whatever I know.”
Trouba was working on a painting but didn’t like the way it was going and got impatient with it. In the back of his mind, he always had this project of using his body as a means of painting to intersect his day job of playing hockey with this newfound passion.
“This is more mark making, lines and planes and trying to break different planes,” Trouba said. “Visually going into those paintings, there’s no set idea. Make a mark and then respond to the mark and try to create planes and create spaces and different things. I thought it would be a fun thing to tie this in with hockey and hitting and the art of hitting and me and my identity … my mark a bit.”
Geschwer was blown away.
“Jacob is very bright, intellectually curious, and you already know how fearless he is,” Geschwer said. “That translated in his studio practice. When he suggested executing this current series as a way of producing marks, lines and washes, which is the basic alphabet of painting, I agreed to help him destroy my studio.
“Hockey is a beautiful sport. The hits, movements, lines from skating and the geometry of the rink are all transferable to painting. But these are not hockey paintings. They are paintings made by a hockey player who is using his gifts on the ice to create compositions as a painter would.
“He’s finding planes on the surface of the canvas and the surface of previous marks he made with his body. He’s using his skates, putting paint on his wheels to draw lines and even using the skates in his hands as he would a brush. He’s doing this without any pre-conceived narrative; just the language of painting and an attempt to create interesting compositions and transfer his identity to the canvas.”
Added Trouba: “The fun is you can be one hit away from being done or 15 hits away from being done. It could be six days or five minutes. You don’t know. You’ve got to stop and look at it and see when I feel good about it.”
Art has become Trouba’s new passion. He and his wife, Kelly, who has epilepsy, wanted to do something with the Epilepsy Foundation in New York and founded the Trouba Creative Expressions Arts Program for adults with epilepsy to come together and paint with art therapists during a 10-week program.
Earlier this summer, the Troubas attended their art show to meet the artists.
“It was a fun day and fulfilling to see all the work and what it means to them,” Trouba said.
Trouba’s Rangers teammate, Adam Fox, the 2021 Norris Trophy winner and 2023 Norris runner-up, let’s just say, is not an artist. His idea of fun is playing golf, Xbox and cuddling with his 14-pound Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Stewie.
“I’m still a stick-figure-drawing person,” Fox said.
But Fox, the New York native, has hung around with Trouba the past few offseasons because the Rangers captain now summers in New York. So, Fox has gotten to learn and hear about this artistic growth, and last week with a few teammates, he went to Trouba’s art unveiling in Brooklyn before the defenseman posted his pieces to the world on Instagram.
“He invited me once to come do it, but it’s not my cup of tea,” said Fox, who added all of Trouba’s teammates have been supportive and frankly impressed. “I think if you find a hobby like that, it’s great. I mean, some people go play golf. Some people do something else. It’s great for him to have a hobby, and he’s obviously pretty passionate about it.”
Trouba, in many ways, credits Geschwer with everything.
“He’s the one that kept me going in art,” Trouba said. “Not every day is a great day. There’s some frustrating days. He’s been good helping me come down to Earth (on those days). So I decided to share it. I don’t know why. I didn’t think it would blow up as much as it has.”
Trouba said he’s still deciding what to do with the art. Most likely, he will auction off a handful of pieces for charity at some point, maybe even publish them in a book.
Trouba really loves this type of art and the ability to respond to whatever he creates without the brushwork that requires waiting for paint to dry and always thinking three steps ahead.
“I don’t think there’s a particular genre for it,” Geschwer said. “For me, it just falls into painting. There are many artists over the years and currently who use their bodies in their work or other bodies. For example, Yves Klein used a female model to paint by pressing her against the canvas or dragging her across it. But he was the artist and she was the implement to convey his idea. Here, Jacob is both.”
Trouba is not trying to glamorize hitting. He knows he’s always a lightning rod for criticism due to some of the checks he’s levied, although for the sake of accuracy, the NHL considers these hits legal.
In his 10-year career, he has been suspended once, for two games, for an illegal check to Mark Stone’s head, and that was while he played for the Jets in 2017. He was also fined once in 2020 for slashing Vince Dunn.
But, Trouba says, “(hitting has) always been a part of my game. I don’t know if it’s something I’m necessarily proud of all the time. Like, I’m not always happy afterward. But it’s part of what I do and it’s not my mentality when I leave the hockey rink. The art kind of puts it in a different light of something beautiful and hard to create and different.
“I don’t ever go out there and try to injure someone or anything like that. That’s not the reason I play hockey. But when I put the helmet on, it’s kind of a different me. Off the ice, I seem to be a little more of a soft-spoken, sensitive person … if you ask my wife.”
(Top photo of Jacob Trouba: Claus Andersen / Getty Images. Top painting is Piece 2 of 8, 92″ x 78″, acrylic on canvas: Courtesy of Jacob Trouba)