Graham Dean exhibition in Bath and London shows athletes get Fitter, Quicker, Longer

Ruth Hazard | 06 July 2012
a watercolour of a diver swimming through water
Graham Dean's Diver watercolour was created using a new technique the artist has dubbed reverse archaeology© Graham Dean
Exhibition: Graham Dean: Fitter, Quicker, Longer, Waterhouse & Dodd, London,  17 July – 12 August, Victoria Art Gallery, Bath  7 July – 2 September 2012

When invited to produce a show inspired by the Olympics, Graham Dean says he was tempted to decline, knowing how rarely sport is tackled by contemporary artists.

He was convinced to change his mind after hearing an American critic claim to have never seen a good sport-themed painting in a museum, something Dean saw as a personal challenge.

A watercolour of an olympic runner
Runner (2010)© Graham Dean
“The project spoke to my 35-year engagement with the body, in paintings including skinheads, fashion models, gamblers and identical twins,” he explains.

“Athletes similarly push their bodies to an extreme and, in the case of Olympians, are competitors who spend years preparing for this moment.”

The artist has spent the past year visiting Olympic and Paralympic training camps to make small studies of athletes, converted into large-scale exhibition pieces which explore the mental discipline and physical form required of elite sports stars.

Dean’s paintings are not a conventional homage to individual sports men and women, but an abstract expression of their art, presented through the depiction of their bodies. 

“One of the best days was with the Paralympics squad,” says Dean.

“Wheelchairs were an issue because it’s sometimes difficult to see beyond the equipment, but I wanted to make them part of the athlete’s body.”

As well as documenting sportspeople in action, the paintings also explore their emotions in the moments before and after a competitive event has taken place.

To create this new body of work, Dean has reinvented the traditional use of watercolour paint through an innovative technique he has dubbed "reverse archaeology".

Contrasting layers of paint are applied separately on thick, handmade paper made of khadi - a cloth from Kerala in Southern India - before each sheet is torn by hand and overlapped to create a final composition of paper.

The exhibition will be showcased at simultaneous exhibitions in London and Bath to coincide with the 2012 Olympic Games.

  • Open at Waterhouse & Dodd Monday-Friday 9.30am-6pm; Victoria Art Gallery 10am-5pm (1.30pm-5pm Sunday, closed Monday). Admission free.

More pictures:

A watercolour of a long jump athlete in the pit
Large Long Jumper (2010-11)© Graham Dean
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