Exploring the artistic side of the Olympics is seldom a task when it entails a meeting with Sacha Jafri. Here’s why. Apart from being the youngest artist in the history of art to be offered a museum-based ten-year retrospective world tour, he also happens to be one of the world’s leading contemporary artists. In 2009 he added another feather to his cap by being one of the chosen few artists commissioned by the London Olympic Committee to represent and translate the London 2012 Olympics artistically.
A sportsman himself Jafri played professional cricket during university and while odd-jobbing before making it as an artist. “When they approached me, I was quite taken with the concept and I said ‘okay, let’s do this’,” Jafri tells GN Focus at a coffee shop on The Palm Jumeirah.
His relaxed and laidback demeanour plays down the size and scale of the project, but he’s quick to say otherwise: “Needless to say I am honoured and enjoyed every bit of the hard research and creative process.”
Jafri set about painting for two-and-a-half years, conceptualising and painting four pieces exclusively for the 2012 Games. “I was given a basic brief and told to run with it the way I saw it creatively unfold.” The result is a series of four distinct creations, each reflecting Jafri’s signature blend of creating live, anthropological works that in his words “capture the zeitgeist of the moment and the world around them”.
The first in the Olympic series is the 2012 London Olympic Painting. Also referred to as the 1000-day Countdown, the canvas celebrates 60 years of British Olympic history and was unveiled by the president of the British Olympic Association, Princess Anne (daughter of the Queen of England and British Olympian) at London’s Natural History Museum. “It’s the only painting ever created to contain the handprints, footprints and signatures of the 50 gold-medal-winning British Olympians from 1952 to 2012,” says Jafri.
Set around the Union Jack, the canvas features the prints of UK’s Olympic greats such as Lord Sebastian Coe, Sir Steve Redgrave, Matthew Pinsent, Dame Kelly Holmes and Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson. The painting also uniquely depicts the Olympic sports, the London 2012 Olympic arenas, stadiums and venues, along with the famous icons and landmarks of London, painted in red, white and blue — the British colours. “This is how my campaign as an Olympic artist began,” Jafri says.
Three paintings followed the first, with Jafri still working on the fourth and final piece. The second painting showcases the greatest sporting rivalry of a decade in history, between tennis greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. The third painting celebrates 20 years of the Barclays Premier League, featuring the managers of the clubs that have lifted the PL cup over the 20 years along with the four main stadiums. The fourth and final commission, in progress, pays homage to the city of London, and is scheduled to be unveiled in early August by the Lord Mayor of London.