Ashleigh Spiliopoulou looks at the unique collection of art at the Zari Gallery in London this month
Have you ever felt defined by your sport? Many of us know our fellow athletes by their performances on the track, on the road or in the field but we may know little more about them beyond their sporting accolades. It was this sentiment that inspired Gavin Johnson to devise an exhibition to showcase the artistic talents of track and field athletes.
Gavin, a highly accomplished javelin thrower and artist, recognised that there were numerous individuals within the track and field community who had hidden talents which they had not the opportunity to explore, develop or showcase. His own experience of returning to painting during the COVID-19 lockdown had led to his work being displayed in London’s Zari Gallery, a cultural hub which celebrates art which transcends borders and is inclusive of all mediums and artists.
Having built up a strong rapport with the gallery’s founder, Georgina Dhillon, Gavin pitched his idea for the exhibition which strongly aligned with the gallery’s values. The idea struck a chord with Georgina who agreed to help bring Gavin’s vision into existence.
The exhibition’s purpose was to be multifaceted. First, it would offer athletes the opportunity to demonstrate another side of their personality and develop their identity outside of sport. Secondly, they could gain valuable experience of the exhibition process and earn some money from sales of their pieces.
Third, members of the public would be able to buy artwork from some of the world’s most exciting athletics prospects and would also gain an insight into the people behind the performances. Finally, the exhibition would give back to the athletic community through the 30% of sales which is going to two charities who support athletes and coaches in their development towards international sporting success.
The first of the two charities is the Ron Pickering Memorial Fund, a charity set up in memory of Ron Pickering; a PE teacher, national athletics coach and prolific BBC commentator. Ron championed the development of young athletes into well rounded individuals as well as sport stars so this exhibition would have resonated closely with his vision. Each year, the charity offers small but significant grants to hundreds of young athletes based on an achievement and need basis.
The other charity to partner with the exhibition is the Lloyd Cowan Bursary, set up in memory of Lloyd Cowan MBE, an exceptional coach and athlete in his own right who tragically lost his life to COVID-19 in January 2021. Lloyd firmly believed that no one with sporting potential should be held back due to lack of support or opportunity and as such the Bursary offers grants to coaches and unfunded athletes aged 16-23, for whom cost is a barrier to accessing developmental opportunities within athletics.
After months of preparation by the gallery, artists and charities, ‘The Art of the Athlete’ opened its doors on May 9. The exhibition will run until Friday May 27 and in total it features 35 current and former athletes. Within the group there are multiple established artists, including Roald Bradstock and Gavin Johnson, who have a wealth of experience in the exhibition process.
Bradstock is in fact known as the ‘Olympic Picasso’ as the only three time Olympian-artist. In the same breath, there are numerous athletes who are having their artwork displayed publicly for the first time. For these athletes the exhibition represents a highly valuable learning experience and they have been supported throughout the process by the gallery founder, Georgina, who has dedicated copious amounts of time to guiding them throughout the journey.
Amongst them is Olympic 800m silver medallist, Keely Hodgkinson, who works with paint, ink and wash amongst other mediums to create vibrant artwork on paper. Keely has been supported by the Ron Pickering Memorial Fund since she was 15, bringing a new level of sentimentality to her inclusion in the exhibition.
Also amongst the artists is Welsh discus thrower, Harrison Walsh. A Para European bronze medallist and Tokyo Paralympian, Harrison’s athletic prowess is obvious to see. Less widely known, however, are his artistic capabilities. Aged 26, Harrison aspires to be a full-time artist and he has worked with a pen to create exquisite portraits of Roger Bannister and Kelly Holmes in celebration for the “The Art of the Athlete” exhibition. His hope is that the exposure he gains through the exhibition could be a stepping stone on to further artistic opportunities.
Across the artists in the exhibition, there are an eclectic mix of mediums, sizes and styles of art. From acrylic paintings to photography and from bright colours to monotone, there is something to suit a wide array of tastes. For some of the artists, inspiration has been drawn from the sporting world with images of notable athletes as well as abstract capturings of runners, jumpers and throwers.
For others, their subjects stray entirely from sport, with beautiful portraiture, landscapes and patterns on display. It is a true celebration of diversity in style and skill. Many of the athlete-artists have been expressing their excitement on social media and you can follow many of their journeys on Instagram and Twitter. A list of all those involved can be found here:
Abigail Birch, Anthony Famiglietti, Bethany Foster, Brendan Reilly, Calum Henderson, Carmen Neat, Cathy Coleman, Chris Walsh, Christopher Carter, Edward Joyce, Ellen Barber, Emily Kearney, Gavin Johnson, Gemma Bridge, Grace Copeland, Hannah Macaulay, Harrison Walsh, Jack Small, John Herbert, Keely Hodgkinson, Kester Welch, Lisa Webb, Marli Jessop, Michael Granville, Naomi Metzger, Nicholas Comerford, Rebecca Eggeling, Roald Bradstock, Sophie Kamlish, Tina Fougler, Victoria Ohuruogu, Will Oyowe.
READ MORE: Keely Hodgkinson picks up her paintbrush
The Zari Gallery is open for public viewing from 10:00 – 17:00 Monday to Friday and can be found at 73 Newman Street, London, W1T 3EJ.