At one point in their careers, these creators were student athletes at Ohio State making a name for themselves in their sports. For some, it was playing in front of a packed Ohio Stadium. For others, it was the battle between the ears as they fought their way through 18 holes on the course. But sports wasn’t the end all, be all for them, and they made the transformation from student-athlete to artist.
Now on display at the McConnell Arts Center in Worthington is Varsity Arts: The Creative Side of Athletes from The Ohio State University. The artistic exhibit features various styles of work including layered woodwork as well as shaped or turned woodwork, outside art paintings, and hand made sculptures with the caveat that all artists featured are former Buckeye athletes.
Take Bruce Hanners, for example. He was a former wrestler for the Buckeyes from 1971 to 1972, but he was far from your typical wrestler. While at Ohio State, Hanners was one of the few men who took dances classes and it shows in his art. His materials—marble, copper, and bronze—showcase the collision of arts and sports, while his final product displays the motion and flow of still life figurative sculptures.
The Varsity Arts exhibit also displays the work of former football player, Percy King. King said he had always had in interest in painting and drawing while growing up, but due to the bruises and bumps of life after football, the strain on his shoulders while drawing would cause his hands to go numb at some points. He also found that taking a long break away from writing during high school through college had him a bit rusty with his artistic craft.
It wasn’t until he purchased a house and a table saw that King found his niche, not in drawing or painting, but in woodworking. It started as a project—he was just trying to make some unique furniture for his house while also maintaining an artistic outlet.
And it turned into so much more. King said he realized that with the type of woodwork he was doing, he had complete artistic control over his craft. He could draw again, this time with to-scale blueprints for his creations to scale because that was what worked for him and his shoulders. It gave him the freedom to do what he wanted while he practiced and worked towards fixing up his house.
King has evolved his self-taught style over 15 years. It was through his furniture woodworking that he discovered there were no distinct American-black styles of furniture. There’s black furniture designers, and African-style furniture, but King said he hadn’t noticed anything that was specifically African-American.
Just like woodworking, he found a new artistic outlet, went back to the drawing board, and discovered his own personal style of art.
“If someone would’ve told me 20 years ago that, ‘Hey, you’re going to be a professional in art,’ I would’ve never came up with anything
King’s style now features prominent figures in the hip-hop world. Legends like Tupac, Biggie Smalls, and Snoop Dogg have all been subjects of his layered woodwork, and his artwork on display in Worthington is no different, as it features Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest as well as producer Swizz Beatz who has worked with the likes of DMX, Jay-Z, and Kanye West.
This is where the crossover of arts-meets-athletics for King. He learned woodworking from framing his sports memorabilia while growing up. The musicians he features in his work were major figures in his life on the football field, as many of those songs became hype anthems before kickoff.
“They speak to me at different times in my life and some of my fondest memories are when some of these guys first albums dropped,” King explained. “Ghostface Killah, Nas—they all had albums while I was in college and these were the things we used to listen to before football games.”
King isn’t the only athlete with an approach to woodworking. Former rifle team member, Bruce Kerns also creates wooden works of art, but in a different manner. While King’s woodwork features various sizes of wood layered on top of each other to create an almost topographical map of the human body or face, Kerns shapes and turns wood into beautiful creations that seem nearly impossible.
Kerns’s work showcases the natural grains and beauty of wood. While the final product is finished with glazes and other treatments, the art itself is raw and seemingly untouched. Currently at the exhibit, Kerns has pieces like “Natural Edge” which is a name for what happens when some of the tree bark remains during the turning process.
The art exhibit also features the work of popular painter and outsider artist, Rick Borg. His outsider art is a cohesive capture of chaos as faces, animals, and other objects are often not as you would see in real life. He also has taken the idea of paint quite literally with his nearly life-sized human made entirely of old and used paint cans; it’s appropriately named “The Great Can Man.” Borg is known for working outside the traditional means of art, and this piece shows just how creative he can get.
Three former Buckeye tennis players will be displaying their artwork and though the three come from the same sport, their eye for art is different. For Jeff Sparr, he specializes in sketch-like paintings akin to what you might see a fashion designer create. His mind and brush dabble in different eras of time, concepts dealing with the mind, and romance. In a TedTalk, watching him create these pieces of work is fascinating. It starts as what appears to be random lines across the page, but the more he adds to the painting, the more the pieces of the puzzle come together to create something unexpected.
Twin brothers Rod and Raúl Sánchez are also former Buckeye tennis players, but their interest goes beyond painting and into more modern styles of art that utilize animation and film. The two combine elements like strokes of the paint brush, outlines and sketches, and finished artwork with animation on film to showcase their work and change the traditional viewing experience. •
The Varsity Arts: The Creative Side of Athletes from The Ohio State University is located at the McConnell Arts Center in Worthington, Ohio. The exhibition is free to the public, and will be open until Oct. 14. For more information on hours, check out mcconnellarts.org.