Abstract Athlete art exhibition spotlights former athletes, veterans turned artists

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Two of Percy King’s woodworking pieces, visual artist and former Ohio State football player, are on display at The Abstract Athlete art exhibit, one being a depiction of Mohammad Ali and the other from Notorious BIG Credit: Molly Goheen | LTV Arts and Life Producer

Former Ohio State football player Percy King learned his love of art in elementary school, but when football forced him into a busy schedule, his efforts artistic have been shelved. After King’s career with Ohio State ended in 2000, his quest to make art returned.

King is not alone in his passion for athletics and the arts.

The Abstract Athlete art exhibit opened September 2 at the Faculty Club at Ohio State. The exhibition, curated by The Abstract Athlete co-founder and former Ohio State baseball player Ron Johnson, highlights artists who are former professional or veteran athletes.

Johnson created The abstract athlete alongside former Ohio State footballer and designer Chris Clemmer.

“About six years ago, because we were both top athletes, we started discussing this kind of overlap between sport and art and the benefits both have on our mental health or our overall health. It kind of grew from there,” Johnson said. “We started finding other professional and veteran athletes who are also artists, thinking about how they can really inspire anyone to get creative again.”

Robie Benve, the Faculty Club’s artistic coordinator, said The Abstract Athlete is one of six exhibitions the Club hosts each year, and features painting, photography, woodworking and art. digital art. The exhibition, which highlights 16 former athletes and veterans, is free and will run until September 28.

Johnson said The Abstract Athlete brand includes a podcast, art exhibits and plans for an artist residency, all to bring attention to the mental health benefits of physicality and creativity.

“For athletes, we’re talking about the euphoria of running, or for performers, of being in the zone,” Johnson said. “I say it all the time, you go into what’s called the flow state where you kind of disappear, and it’s nice. It’s like it takes away the day-to-day issues.

Of the 18 works in the art exhibit, two are carpentry pieces created by King, who said the art improved his mental health. King’s pieces depict Muhammad Ali and The Notorious BIG, both of which have personal connections to his life.

“I was in high school when Notorious BIG’s debut album came out, so those were the songs I listened to before games in the ‘Shoe, before going out, all day long when we were watching movies and do guided tours,” King said.

Just as his piece Notorious BIG reminds King of his days in the ‘Shoe, King said some of his other works remind him of his loved ones.

“I’m a huge Prince fan, and I always tell people I got this because of my sister who was seven years older than me,” King said. “She died in 1993, but I had this connection with her by listening to Prince’s music, watching the movie Purple Rain and seeing videos of him. Every time I watch it, I think of her. So , when I did this piece, I felt like I was spending time with my sister.

Johnson said The Abstract Athlete art exhibit and the brand as a whole hope to inspire people to be creative, physically active and to eat well. The exhibit also helps address mental health, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, which affect many veterans and former athletes.

“Abstract, I think, is a big word because it can mean anything,” Johnson said. “The athlete part was interesting because we wanted to involve veterans or military people who have PTSD or TBI. Come and find out, they use the term ‘tactical athlete’ among the military. So it was interesting for us to think about to these things and that we did not know this term until afterwards.

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