Sport Relief came up with the intriguing concept of ‘Sport Portraits’ (BBC1, Monday and Tuesday), with five celebrated artists (and ex-cricketer Jack Russell) painting portraits of four sporting icons for a charity auction. The pop artist Sir Peter Blake, Jack Vettriano, Stella Vine, cartoonist Gerald Scarfe and photographer Rankin depicted the royal three-day eventer Zara Phillips, boxing funnyman Ricky Hatton and football’s Fabio Capello and Didier Drogba.
It presented new problems for the artists: not just rendering dynamic sportsmen in still life but also facing consequences ranging from a sound beating to being charged with treason. .
Art and football are strange bedfellows. About the only thing they have in common is the ludicrous money involved in both. The England goalkeeper David James is a keen painter, but the true artistry of the “working man’s ballet” is to be found on the pitch, not on the wall, while other sports have been touched by art. Footballers at least will be familiar with the pictures of equestrian exploits and old golfers that adorn pubs across the land. .
Stella Vine was identified as “the footballers’ choice”, presumably because she had painted Jose Mourinho with his dog rather than the fact that she used to be a stripper. Capello’s people actually contacted the BBC to ask if Vine would paint him. “I’m a great art lover and collector myself,” said the England coach, an admirer of Vine’s work. You can’t really imagine such homage coming from Big Sam – or even Big Ron, collector of fine jewels. .
Zara chose Vettriano, and the man whom Raymond Blanc called “extremely romantic” became a little too excited at the prospect. When the gravel-voiced Scot rang her, it was like a dirty phone call. “I like the fact that you do what you do because I find it very sexy,” he said, thinking of jodhpurs and boots. “Can’t you just do me looking normal?” she pleaded. .
Fortunately, Phillips loved her picture, while Hatton was already a fan of Blake because of his ‘Sgt Pepper’ album cover and another one he did for Ricky’s fellow Mancunians Oasis. Here is an interesting meeting of minds, since Blake tends to be a fan of his subjects and has painted several boxers, including Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston. Those who like Blake’s art tend to like his subject matter as well as the work itself. .
Then there’s Jack Russell, the odd one out in more ways than one. Like James, he found time during his sporting career to pursue an interest in art. But he only appeared for five seconds. The former England wicketkeeper, who specialises in pictures of battlegrounds and cricket grounds, is a reclusive and eccentric character who insists on blindfolding people who visit his house. Perhaps he was so disappointed by his picture of Drogba that he wanted to blindfold everyone who looked at it. .