The Olympics: putting Team GB on canvas

Jocelyn Hunt by Hannah Hopkins

20:12 is a truly unique show that has been staged by DegreeArt: twelve graduates were selected to paint 20 of Team GB’s best athletes.

Here, four of their grads tell us a bit about how they rose to the challenge of putting the Olympic heroes on canvas – and what the Olympics have meant for the world of art.

Hannah Hopkins – painted gymnast Jocelyn Hunt and runner Christine Ohorougu

I was really interested to be a part of this project – especially because it offered me new challenges, given the prestige of the athletes I was painting and the way they are so recognisable. I had to ensure I did justice to their stature and also make them look as authentic as possible. It felt a huge privilege to paint them.

Painting Jocelyn Hunt was interesting because she uses her body as her ‘trade’: she is happy

Christine Ohorougu by Hannah Hopkins

and comfortable with her physicality, and is used to analyzing it. In that way she was more objective about herself than perhaps sitters who are not athletes might be, and found it easy to be part of the process.

I have really enjoyed the Olympics in general, and more than I expected. The way it has extended to non-sporty people (like me) has been the biggest surprise. From Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony which incorporated people from NHS for example, it has been about more than just athletes, incorporating the whole country.

Victoria Heald – painted cyclist Victoria Pendleton

I thought DegreeArt’s idea to put on the 20:12 show was brilliant, because it has been a way for young artists to celebrate the Games, which seems incredibly important when it is happening at home. It also coincides with the general drive of this year’s Games to incorporate arts as well as sport.

Victoria Pendleton by Victoria Heald

I love how the Olympics have been embraced across the country and especially in London,  where I live and have my studio. The extensive cultural celebrations which have been happening around the country have been incredible. I’ve noticed many arts projects around me – the painted phone boxes for Childline are great fun, for instance.

I chose to paint Victoria Pendleton because she is both a wonderful athlete and also epitomizes the glamour that I always love to paint. Her combination of strengh and beauty is very appealing. The healthy body images we are seeing in the Games is also interesting – there seems to be a general consensus that we ought to celebrate things like this now.

Patrick Simkins – painted the triathlon medal-winning Brownlee brothers 

The Brownlee brothers by Patrick Simkins

The Olympics is a compelling event in which individuals show how to be the best of themselves, that is such an interesting and challenging thing to paint. You want to convey the determination and excellence of the athletes within your painting.

It has also been an amazing experience to feel so many people across the country coming together for the Games.

It was fantastic to go up to the Brownlee brothers’ home town of Otley, where they train and live. It was incredibly important to do that because it is crucial to them – the place they spend most of their time. I wanted to capture them in their most comfortable setting, where they were being most ‘themselves’. They were very focused on competing when I met them, not fazed by the idea of being viewed in this way. I found the biggest challenge was conveying their body shape since they are very slim-line but strong – their bodies are everything so it has to be right.

Perri Shakes Drayton by Rebecca Molloy

Rebecca Malloy – met 400m hurdler Perri Shakes-Drayton and distance runner Mo Farah

I was really excited when asked to put forward a proposal for the 20:12 project. It’s not often that you get a chance to record a part of your country’s history. It also made sense that a show would revolve around portraits of the athletes: this is a great way of entwining art and sport together. It’s a simple idea, but actually this is what makes it significant. As artists, we have the ability to immortalise people, so at a time when the athletes are so in the spotlight, it’s a great feeling knowing that our interpretation of them is out there.

My ideas about what I wanted to achieve with my pieces changed dramatically from the beginning. I initially wanted to do close up paintings of the athletes which were centred around the scrutiny of the face. Over time, I realised that as these athletes were public figures, maybe it made more sense that they became traditional portraits in terms of composition.

Mo Farah by Rebecca Molloy

So after beginning again, I wanted to ensure that I wasn’t just creating an accurate description but rather representing them as athletes. I focused on the intensity of the expression in both paintings, which hopefully represent determination and power. I also used really heightened colours and expressive brush marks, which helps to give the paintings a sense of vitality.

Although there is an element of realism in the paintings and you are able to tell who they are, ultimately I wanted the portraits to be transformed from a literal representation into something different and refreshing.

Usually I’m not a sport fanatic, but in many ways have been caught up in the Olympic fever. I’m not sure whether it’s because they are taking place in London, or whether I’m more aware of it now that I’ve completed this project. Whatever the answer is, I’ve really enjoyed watching our country do so well and have felt that sense of support and willingness for Team GB.

See the rest of the work on display at 20:12 here.

20:12 is being staged by DegreeArt, the art company which specialises in student and graduate design. The exhibition will run until 26th September at 26A Vyner Street, London. 

Paul Drinkhall by Anika Manuel
Rebecca Adlington by Abigail Box
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