Athletes from around the world have gathered in PyeongChang, South Korea, to kick off the 2018 Winter Olympics. Among the men and women competing are four current and former athletes charged with a special mission: to bring art to the Olympic Village.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced this week that it has selected four athletes to serve as Olympic artists in residence for this year's winter games. Greek-American distance runner Alexi Pappas, British javelin thrower Roald Bradstock, American biathlete Lanny Barnes, and Swiss fencer Jean-Blaise Evéquoz, each of whom are artists who have competed in the Olympics at least once, will collaborate on two projects throughout the duration of the games.
The artist-in-residence program stems from the Olympic Agenda 2020, which lays out a series of recommendations for the future of the Olympic movement. One of these recommendations is to further the integration of art and sport—a tradition that has deep roots in Olympic history. Drawing from precedent set by the ancient Greeks, between 1912 and 1948, the modern Olympic Games awarded medals for painting, architecture, sculpture, literature and music. And between 1912 and 1952, 151 medals were given out for works of fine art that were inspired by sport.
In 2014, as part of its effort to bring art back to the Olympics, the IOC appointed three artists—the French street artist JR, the German author Tilman Spengler and the American Vine star Gerald Andal—as its inaugural artists in residence. But this year marks the first time that the appointed artists in residence are also athletes.
One of the art projects planned for this year’s winter games will be spearheaded by Pappas, who set a national record for Greece when she ran 10 km in 31:36 during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. According to the IOC press release, Pappas will collaborate with filmmaker and partner Jeremy Teicher to create a series of short films that will tell the story of a cross-country skier (played by Pappas) who develops an “unlikely” relationship with a volunteer in the Olympic Village (played by the actor Nick Kroll). This isn’t Pappas’ first cinematic venture; she co-directed and co-wrote Tracktown with Teicher, which she also starred in as a long-distance runner preparing for the Olympic trials.
The second project will be a collaboration between the three other artists in residence. Bradstock, who competed in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics, has been dubbed the “Olympic Picasso” by the media because the British javelin thrower wore outfits painted with his own designs. Evéquoz, who took home a bronze medal for the team épée event at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, is now a full-time professional painter. And Barnes the three-time Olympian biathlete also now works as a professional painter. She and her sister, Tracy, made headlines in 2014 after Tracy gave Lanny her spot in the 2014 Sochi games because Lanny had been too sick to compete in the Olympic trials.
Together, these three artists will oversee a program that will recruit Olympic athletes to produce 15 paintings during the games—one for each winter sport. “When the 15 paintings are completed and arranged in three rows of five, they will become one painting revealing the Olympic values which are at the heart of this initiative,” the IOC statement explains. Bradstock, Evéquoz and Barnes will also supervise the creation of one, large painting that will be worked on throughout the Olympic period.
Bradstock, who initiated the project, says in the statement that the paintings will “focus on and celebrate the Olympic athlete, giving Olympians an opportunity to show their creative side.”
“This project,” he adds, “is about combining the universal languages of sport and art – a project about Olympians, created by Olympians for Olympians."