From Arthur Ashe to the Williams sisters, public courts have nurtured and built US Open champions. The USTA, in partnership with Chase and our National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) network, will build upon its shared mission to strengthen communities through tennis and art by restoring five public-court facilities in five markets.

Artist Justus Roe will be transforming the public courts of the Chicago area’s Cooper Park, home of The Ace Project, a USTA NJTL, into an immersive art experience. caught up with Roe to discuss his art, his inspiration and how tennis will influence his creation. What made you want to get involved in this Art Courts project?

Justus Roe: It was just a really unique opportunity. I’ve done a lot of large-scale building facades, and I’m always looking for new, interesting locations and projects. Of course, the US Open is huge, and the art house that reached out to me has done a lot of interesting projects worldwide, so that was appealing, as well. What are you planning to paint?

Justus Roe: These projects are always a little tricky with my painting style because a lot of it is improvised. I have a rough sketch, but I try to let the space dictate some of the moves. What inspired you when you were planning your piece?

Justus Roe: Once I got the location… most of the stuff I do around town in Chicago is based on the actual location. I was looking at Google Maps and the interesting things that make up that particular spot in Riverdale. The park is right next to a train line, and it’s just south of the Little Calumet River, which is kind of a border marker for the city itself. I’m kind of letting those shapes influence the design a little bit. What do you want to convey with your artwork?

Justus Roe: I’m hoping to capture that energy and emotion that’s specific to tennis. I’m thinking about the sight lines, how people on the court are going to see it, and then, of course, the aerial perspective. I’m also trying to convey that sort of emotion and energy as it relates to the surrounding landscape.

play video Getting to know: Chicago Art Courts artist Justus Roe Are there feelings you hope to evoke from people when they see your work?

Justus Roe: I just hope they get excited. All the work I do I try to be eye-catching and something that breaks the mold, especially in Chicago because it’s so gridded out. I’m hoping to draw people into the courts. It’s refreshing to see public art that’s not an advertisement and not just a structure. Have you worked on any similar projects in the past?

Justus Roe: I started doing a project last year, but the weather turned before I could finish it. It was a big building in Chicago. I painted the west-facing facade, and I started to paint the roof itself. With the explosion of drone technology, it’s making me rethink some of the projects I’ve already done and how I can incorporate roof spaces or flat surfaces. I started to do that last year, but nothing this big yet. Have there been any surprises or challenges that have presented themselves in this project?

Justus Roe: I’ve been following the folks who started in Miami already a lot, just to see how they approached it. It looked like a lot of their designs were traditional and geometric. For me, instead of just working directly to the court grid, I’m trying to break that up just a little bit. I’m not going to freestyle it as much as I normally do, but I’m hoping there will be moments or spots where it’ll make sense. 

I’m nervous and excited to see how the paint overlaps, which is a big part of my process. I’m also excited to see if I can pull it off in the timeline, but I’ve got a crew of people ready to help me. And then, of course, Chicago weather could always play a factor. Have you played much tennis yourself?

Justus Roe: In my youth I did. My father was pushing me to play tennis. There were some courts pretty close to where I grew up in Chicago, so I did play for a while, but nothing organized. Do you have any ideas to spice up professional courts?

Justus Roe: I would love to, but I imagine that would be contentious.


Follow artist Justus Roe on Instagram: @justusroe

Join the 50th anniversary Art Courts celebration in Chicago, and watch LIVE on Facebook and Twitter, June 20 at 12 p.m. ET (11 a.m. CT), as we livestream the court transformation. Roe will join Net Generation ambassador Jessica Popiol (@tennismessage on Instagram) alongside youth from the ACE Project for a live painting session.