The parallels between Sport and Art are often discussed in terms of creativity, expression, discipline and shared values. Someone perhaps well placed to appreciate this special relationship, is Olympian Martial Artist turned Contemporary Abstract Artist, Neil Eckersley.
Born and raised in Salford, Manchester, Neil Eckersley was Britain’s leading extra-lightweight Judo player for a decade, winning his bronze at the Los Angeles games of 1984. He coached the National Junior men’s team for many years, and today is still actively involved with the sport of Judo at all levels.
But in recent years Neil is just as likely to be found in a gallery as he is the Dojo. Returning to another love of his, Neil is taking a firm grip on the art world as a painter and digital artist. With a stunning portfolio of artworks he’s showcased all over the world, including exhibitions in Manchester, Norway, Paris, Budapest, Baku, and Tokyo, Neil journeyed once more to the Olympics as part of the Artists-in-Residence programme, at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. He is also a member of Art of the Olympians (AOTO).
Neil talks about the inspiration behind his original paintings created for the Olympic Agora Beijing in this video by The Olympic museum
Neil, now living in Lancaster, further explains how his love of art began by saying: “I grew up in a working-class area, which explains why I wanted to learn how to look after myself – but the art came from a need to express myself and give an outlet for my creative urges. I’d always had a problem with the written word because of my dyslexia but found painting to be the perfect way to express emotions and things I wanted to put across’’.
Initially inspired by his time in sport, capturing the emotions, energy, and the values connected to the Olympic movement, Neil has increasingly drawn more on his own personal life, and the state of the world around him presenting abstract works on Dementia, and most recently War & Conflict with his H.O.P.E. Exhibition on show in Lancaster until February 9th.
You can hear a lot more from Neil, about his Olympic journey, artistic practice, the history of art at the Olympics, and hear how the sport and art worlds have reacted to his move from Judoka to Artist in this special episode of Jo McLaughlin’s Art History Podcast.