On Salvador Rooney and other artists
Football and art have yet to really make a connection. Horse racing and cricket, athletics and even golf have made it into the classical arena, but football has been left behind. The few examples of football and art that I have seen tend to be static and devoid of feeling—the antithesis of the game itself.
Perhaps the problem stems from football being part of popular culture.
Iconic images such as Bobby Moore holding the World Cup have now been reproduced so many times they’ve lost their power and artistic interest. So when I was asked to judge the One Love art competition, I was curious to see how people would present football as art.
My dad is a well-known painter and sculptor in Jamaica, but he wasn’t the reason for my interest in art. I haven’t had a formal education in it but I liked it at school and when I was an apprentice at Watford I began to paint. I started off with a portrait of Rod Thomas, and the club shop suggested I do 12 players for the club calendar.
I carried on at Liverpool. I sketched Stevie G with his bowl haircut—he’s still embarrassed about that one—and at Manchester City I drew Sun Jihai on a drinks coaster when we were signing autographs one day. He hated it so I ended up putting it on my fridge. I very rarely give my paintings away. It must be that “collecty” side of my character.
Sometimes I sketch a still life—my feet when I’m watching TV, or the view from my bathroom window—but I tend to work from photographs. With footballers you have to: there’s no way you’d get them to sit still for long enough. Also, I like the way a camera captures an ad hoc moment, like a kid pulling a silly grin. I used to worry that using a camera is cheating—what’s the point of a painting when you have a photograph? But artists have always used technology to help them out; in the 1600s they used magnifying glasses so they could enhance every detail of their subjects.
I love certain artists. Salvador Dali is one. He’s technically superb. Dali can match the Renaissance art of Michelangelo, but he also does the abstract. Simply put, Dali is your Wayne Rooney equivalent: he can do the technical stuff but he can also do a bit more. He also invested meaning and emotion into his paintings.
I have a particular interest in portraits. During the World Cup this year, I planned to paint or sketch every single player in the England squad. Had we been there a week longer I might have managed it. I blame Portugal.
I was experimenting with different techniques at the time so I was constantly on the phone to art shops, or off to Baden-Baden to get acrylics or gouache. I started off painting Sol Campbell and Jermaine Jenas on canvas. Then I began drawing on the white England baseball caps. I drew Jamie Carragher in black Pilot pen, using dots to build up his face. He raced off with it to show his old man and before long some of the lads were saying, “Jamo, do us a cap.” I ended up drawing Stevie G, Aaron Lennon and a nice one of Rooney.
During tournaments you tend to go a bit stir crazy being stuck in the hotel, so drawing and painting is a good therapeutic release. The England photographer, Simon Mooney, and I would sit around making plans. We discussed the idea of using items from the England camp as canvas, so when I sketched the kitmen I did it on the tags they attach to our luggage.
I say art and football don’t mix but on England trips players are always messing about drawing pictures of each other. And I tell you who has a talent for it—Rooney. He really picks up on detail, little things like teeth, or studs on boots. He has a good eye for it.
When I think about painting football there’s one scene that fires my imagination: the tunnel. There is something about that space: not many people know what it feels like in there. You see players having a laugh, or being serious and the whole space changes depending on the mood. The stark light and shadow produced from the overhead electric lights, it’s all a bit Dr Who. The most profound feeling I’ve had in football was going down the tunnel before the game against France at Euro 2004. The curve of the roof eclipses and distorts the stadium and the fans as you’re looking out through the tunnel. It’s a unique view and a unique feeling that goes with it.
I’m interested in interpreting the current zeitgeist of football, and confronting my own emotions as a player. I want to depict the view from the inside too—the good and the bad. I don’t know if that’s a good career move, but it would certainly be interesting.
Provided they are there on merit there can be no argument.
The game clearly needs to progress, and questions need to be asked. Why not have women playing or coaching in the men’s game? If they’re tough enough and talented enough, what’s the problem? When Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville and I visited Malawi, we ran coaching sessions for women and I was getting slide-tackled all over the place. They were hard as nails.
People expect women to fork out for football tickets and shirts for their kids, take them to training, wash the kits and then they’re not allowed to participate in the sport? That’s ludicrous. — Â