London Olympic artist in Bow hopes paintings of athletes will create her own legacy

Lined up in a small studio inside Bow Arts Trust is a series of 10 life-size portraits of mostly British athletes that may create their own Olympic legacy for artist Teresa Witz.

Before turning her attention to sport stars Ms Witz was more known for painting celebrities, such as David and Victoria Beckham, Kylie Minogue and Cher, whose portraits adorn the walls around her studio on Bow Road.

But when Ms Witz was approached to become an official Olympic artist it was opportunity she says she couldn’t miss to not only capture the London Games for future generations, but also to leave behind her own legacy in years to come.

Inspired

Ms Witz is one of a select few allowed to call herself an official Olympic artist after being among 10 artists chosen to retell the story of the Games, as part of the BT Art and Sport Initiative.


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The original versions of her portraits will be displayed at Heathrow Airport during the Games to welcome visitors from around the world while full-size scanned copies will from next month be dotted around Jubilee Park in Canary Wharf.

A series of smaller head and shoulder portraits will also be displayed in Canada Place Mall’s Window Gallery.

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Ms Witz said: “It’s my legacy as well. I wanted to do something which when in years to come when I’m long gone will probably appear in exhibitions. It’s also about the sense of capturing this moment in time.

“I was invited to see the Greek antiquities at the British Museum along with other artists to look at the trophies that the Olympians were awarded.

“That’s what started to inspire me. I wondered what people would be looking at in another 100 years that would be representative of this time.”

As a next step she began researching athletes who were likely to be picked for the Olympics and Paralympics and who she thought would be interesting to paint.

It was also important for her to pick a mixture of Olympic and Paralympic athletes, including some that were local to the host boroughs and some that were less well known.

Iconic

Among those chosen were 23-year-old Perri Shakes-Drayton, from Bow, who went to Bishop Challoner School in Shadwell, and is one of the most talked about medal hopes for the 400 metre hurdle.

Ms Witz said: “I also wanted to select athletes from different sports, some of which are less well known and give them heroic or iconic status.”

As Ms Witz then travelled around the country to meet with the athletes it soon became evident she would have to move from her mostly head and shoulder portraits to full body size paintings.

She said: “The first person I painted was rower Zak Purchase and when I met him to take some photographs I told him: ‘You’ve got to get your mind to that point in the race when it’s the final few minutes and you are rowing away’.

“His whole face and manner then changed as if he was there in the race.

“So that’s when I knew I would have to capture the athletes’ whole body to represent them.”

Standing next to her current favourite portrait, of track and field runner Victoria Barr who is portrayed looking over her shoulder, Ms Witz said: “This is the pose she is famous for because in the relay she is always looking out for the baton.”

It’s also all about capturing the determination in the athletes eyes, she said, moving across the room to her portrait of sprinter Jeanette Kwakye from Waltham Forest, saying: “She’s got it. Perri Shakes-Drayton I’m still working on, but she lives just across the road and can pop over anytime.”

Another image which changed was that of Paralympic wheelchair marathon racer David Weir.

Ms Witz said: “Originally he was posing for me sideways. But the more I was working with him, while he was training, the more I became aware that the wheelchair was an extension of his body, and that’s when I did a another horizontal portrait.”

As an artist Ms Witz found she was on the same wavelength as the athletes.

She said: “When I speak to the athlete we joke about the fact that we’re both striving for this perfection, and the dedication and the time we put into our work is the same.”

Some of the more unknown stars may of course go from what Ms Witz describes as “anonymous stars” to achieving iconic status if they take Gold at the Olympics.

But Ms Witz is not banking on making a fortune from her artwork which will be auctioned off through a silent auction for a range of sporting charities after the Olympics.

While some exhibition cost is covered she has funded all materials and the time spent herself.

“I’ll keep my auction reserve price as low as possible to make sure that a good amount goes to charity,” she says.

But she expects to win commissions on the back of being an official Olympic artist.

“For your work to be shown is sometimes a greater feeling than being showered with lots of money.”

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