In the centre of Frieze Sculpture 2017 in Regent’s Park was a totem pole made of footballs, one piled carefully one on top of another. Moving from there to a narrow mews in Mayfair, Brook’s Mews, there are more totems, not only footballs, but rugby balls and also cricket bats.
American artist Hank Willis Thomas has taken over Ben Brown Fine Arts with his solo exhibition “The Beautiful Game” which includes also wall sculptures where feet and arms break out of the walls to kick or throw footballs and quilts made of from football jerseys from well-known teams such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool which are sewn to represent art by Picasso, Matisse and Ghanaian Asafo flags. Gradually his work moves from football to rugby and I guess cricket will be next.
Growing up in Glasgow in the 1960′s. your politics and religion were determined by which football team you supported, primarily Rangers or Celtic. Edinburgh had Hibs and Hearts. Thomas’s work explores identity, history and popular culture and the more meaningful of his works explore the link between football, art and politics. He is treading on dangerous ground, but football has its tribes who wage war against other each other, as is all too obvious from the attitudes and violence at football matches. Here, his deeper work moves from football into war with images of rifles and war.
Thomas has African heritage and his work also raises the profile of the diversity of players on which football today relies, with clubs paying ever-mouth-watering sums of money for the best players, yet these very same players are often subject to abuse by the more traditional supporters. Football is a sport of complexity and contradictions, but, given what is happening in Spain today, perhaps we should turn things on their head. Would a game of football by Madrid and Barcelona teams perhaps be a more creative way to resolve the situation than the politicians appear to be achieving?