Sports and fine arts are often perceived to be at different ends of a spectrum at school. But the new “Art of the Athlete” exhibition at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art has united the two in an interdisciplinary meditation.
Student-athletes from football, track and field, basketball, baseball, soccer, golf, tennis, cheer and club sports have contributed 51 self-made art pieces to the exhibition, which runs May 30 through Sept. 30.
“It’s really our mission to make art a part of people’s daily lives,” JSMA Director of Education and Outreach Lisa Abia-Smith said. “So working with these student-athletes has been a great vehicle for them to show a side that normally the public doesn’t get to see.”
Abia-Smith, who also works as an adjunct faculty member teaching arts and administration, came up with the idea for the exhibition last spring. She and fellow instructor David Bretz teach a series of courses about art and gender, human values and human literacy, and they have had several student-athletes in their classes. The two faculty members thought it would be a great idea for student-athletes to focus on their craft and create art at the same time. For them, art and athletics aren’t foreign concepts at all — both are sequential and require critical thinking.
“This is an idea we had that we thought would benefit them as students, benefit them as individuals and also academically help them with writing, helping them be able to articulate who they are,” Abia-Smith said. “A lot of them have had some struggles. A lot of them feel as if maybe they’re misrepresented or misunderstood. So they want to use art to show their authentic selves.”
The artwork in the exhibition is diverse, including an acrylic painting of the Buddha and a complex wire sculpture of a Nike shoe. Many of the pieces are two-dimensional self portraits with symbolic meaning. For example, NFL-bound football player LaMichael James contributed a piece that depicts four figures on a football field, each one representing him at different points in his athletic career.
Football player Wade Keliikipi’s self-portrait features a man wearing one of the new reflective football helmets, and along the perimeter of the face mask is a tattoo. The tattoo illustrates Keliikipi’s Hawaiian cultural heritage and the idea that no matter where he’s looking, whether on the field or in life, he always has his family in the perimeter.
Football player Josh Huff created a landscape piece featuring a rocky ocean with a serene beach in the foreground. The two opposed moods in the landscape symbolize hardships in Huff’s past and his journey to a strong academic and athletic environment at the University.
Soccer player Kelsey Foo did a monochromatic oil painting of a track runner praying before a race, seeking to capture the essence of what it means to be a sprinter and the moment before a race launch.
“I was looking to do something that represented the Olympic trials, so I wanted to do a track piece,” she said. “You have to have faith in yourself when you’re about to race. You have to leave all the stuff from practice behind and believe you’ll do well and all your training will pay off.”
She said she thought the exhibition is a fun and educational idea.
“I think it’s cool because most people only think of athletes as their sport and don’t really realize they do things outside of that,” she said. “It’s great for all these athletes from different sports to come together and make something like this.”
One piece museum-goers won’t fail to miss is track and field athlete Matthew Auer’s six-foot-tall sculpture of a runner: The body is comprised of CDs welded together, and floppy disks encircle the waist. The piece contrasts the meeting of old and new technology, which also serves as a metaphor for running as an old sport with ever-new athletes and shoes.
Track athlete and product design major Cole Watson took art in high school and said he always related it to sports. He contributed a marker rendering of Michael Jordan for the exhibition. Based on a photograph, the high-contrast piece shows Jordan celebrating his emotional Chicago Bulls win over the Utah Jazz in Game Six of the 1998 NBA Finals.
“Everybody on the track team has a man crush for Jordan,” Watson said on why he picked the basketball player.
More seriously, he added, “I mean, just looking at his expression and gestures and everything, he’s just so happy and so excited at what he’s accomplished … it gets me kind of fired up and motivated to go out and do something like that.
“It’s a great combination. They really go hand in hand,” Watson said of art and athletics. “It allows us to express ourselves and not just on the field or the court. Art is really an applied, hands-on thing, and it requires a lot of concentration and vision.”
“Art of the Athlete” opened with a reception at the JSMA Wednesday night at 5 p.m. It is open to students and the public and hopefully will attract new museum-goers during the 2012 Olympic Trials in Eugene in late June and early July.
“It’s a great way for us to reach new audiences and show that art really isn’t always made by what we would consider great masters like Picasso,” Abia-Smith said of the exhibition. “Art has another dimension. It can be made by people who use art in their daily life, or art as a way of presenting who they are … I think it will show people that art can be vibrant, that art can be made to tell a story and to give an insight into people that you may not consider to be familiar with art.”