We are all familiar with the artistic grace that many pro athletes must uphold in order to perform well in sports. When they retire from the pro world, some take on charity work or simply enjoy a quiet life. However, a smaller group of athletes get involved with artistic ambitions that astound those that learn of this unique combination. Regardless, these individuals prove that you can be rough and tumble and still have the delicate touch of a painter.
The world of sports artists
Some artists are well known for pursuing a career that solely focuses on athletes. While they may not be athletes themselves, they are prone to painting Hall of Fame stars, MVPs, and other sports legends. For this reason, a visit to the American Sport Art Museum & Archives in Daphne, Alabama is worth the time of any sports fan that loves sports collectibles. Despite their vast contribution to art and sports, most of these artists are not pro athletes turned artists.
Historic Renaissance man but not a painter
Going from pro athlete to painter is certainly an unexpected chain of events, but it is actually a historic combination that has happened at least eight times. Starting in the early 1900s, one athlete turned heads for his multi-faceted abilities. In 1921, Paul Robeson started out as a football player for the Akron Pros and the Milwaukee Badgers in 1922.
After his football career, discrimination against people of color in the U.S. led him to become actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement through the Communist Party. He was also noted for being a great in NYC's Harlem Renaissance. Despite many sources citing him as an artist, they are not referring to Robeson's abilities to paint, draw, sketch, or photograph. Instead, historical references where he is cited as an artist are referring to his work as an actor, singer, and songwriter.
Athlete that played baseball but never painted it
In the world of art, George Wesley Bellows is a legend for being an athlete and an artist that captured many key sporting events. Born in 1882 in Ohio, he played baseball and basketball at Ohio State University. In 1904, he quit college and went to NYC to pursue his real dream in the world of art. Although he loved art and soon became one of the top Realists of his time, he supported his true love by continuing to play sports.
According to Diamonds in the Rough: The Untold History of Baseball By Joel Zoss and John Bowman, Bellows was approached by the Cincinnati Red Stockings but later became part of the Brooklyn Howards baseball team. It definitely seems that Bellows would have painted a few baseball paintings considering that he was involved in the sport. Nonetheless, most of his work illustrates city life of the early 1900s and the sport of boxing. For example, Dempsey vs. Firpo is one of his most famous paintings.
Stealthy cyclist turned eccentric artist
Of all the notable modern pro athletes that were artists such as Todd Marinovich, Patricia Walker, Rive Nestor, and Amby Leblanc, few can hold a candle to Maurice de Vlaminck. Definitely considered eccentric for his dabbling in erotic novel writing and intense poetry, he was a contender of the Fauve movement of the early 1900s.
In addition to being known as "the wildest beast" for threats to burn down the l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts academy with his bright red paintings, de Vlaminck was considered on the same level as post-impressionists Henri Matisse and Andre Derain. Like George Bellows, he supported his artistic passions by working as a pro athlete.
It was from his bicycling practices that he drew inspiration to paint his famous landscapes. Unlike some athletes turned artists, de Vlaminck was just as good at one as the other. According to Dangerous Corner by Abelard-Schuman, his career in cycling brought him a hefty 400 francs a week and he was good enough to be selected for the Grand Prix de Paris in 1896.
Weirdest father-son tale in sports and art
Currently, we know Vernon Wells as the L.A. Angels outfielder. However, his father is also named Vernon Wells and introduced his son to baseball through his paintings of players for the Texas Rangers. A year before Jr.'s birth, Wells Sr. tried out for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1977.
During this tryout period, the NY Times notes that Wells Sr. often drew sketches before and after the meetings in order to relax. When his pro athlete career fell through, Wells Sr. took up professional painting and left the professional sports career to his son.