by BRENDAN FOSTER
WHILE the polarity between sport and arts has probably never been wider in Australia, artist Richard Lewer says both can occupy the same playing field.
But it wasn’t that long ago Lewer wouldn’t mention his love affair with sport around his beret-wearing art buddies.
”I’ve always played sport during art school, but I kept it very quiet because I didn’t think the two mixed together,” he told the Herald.
“Then I started too look at how the two could be linked together, because sport was taking up so much time outside the studio.
”It was when I was doing my masters at VCA (Victorian College of Arts) I trained as a wood chopper, so I wanted to look at masculinity. I started too look at the parallels between training for sport and making art.”
The Leeming local decided to throw himself into the most brutal of all sports: boxing. He then challenged artist Luke Sinclair to jump in the ring, which became part of a documentary called Fisticuffs.
”Fisticuffs took the fight into a gallery context and I think people that came to the opening where expecting an arty-type thing,” he said. “But it was very serious.
“We had professional judges; we had to strip down to the right weight, we took it very serious.
“For me it was a natural progression of the work. It led on from the physicality of my work – the masculinity of my work.”
It was while training for the fight he could see artists and sportspeople actually had a lot in common.
”When I was boxing it was the classic three things: the discipline, the training, the skill,” he said. “Everyday I go to the studio, rain hail or shine. “Its a slog, its hard work, its a hard road. “It’s exactly like a sportsperson.”
The New Zealand-born artist, who now calls Perth home, has become acutely aware how winning in Australia is almost a religious activity.
In his recent show, You Can’t Win Them All, the painter depicted moments of defeat rather than triumphs.
“I wanted to look at failure as well, because we are all about winning in society,” he said. “And the parents on the sideline that are just as competitive.
“I wanted to show the extremes.”
When Lewer was asked by Fremantle Arts Centre curator Ric Spencer to put on a show
around “Australia’s obsession with sport, he jumped at the chance.
The exhibition Inside Running: the art of sport which runs at FAC from Feb 2 to April 7 looks at nine artists whose passion for “sport had bled into their art”.
Lewer said he wanted to show gallery-goers the outdated perceptions that art and sport are in opposition with one another.
“I thought it would be interesting to curate a show like this,” he said. “To make it real we needed to gather artists who for them sport had played a big part in their lives – sometimes too big a part. Their love of sport had to be as much as mine.”
“To be completely honest, I’m not a great boxer, I’m a shit surfer and I’m not a great tennis player. “But these are my passions.”