How Michael Vaughan turned from Ashes victor to modern artist

by Lauren Potts

To sports fans, Michael Vaughan’s fame stems from taking the England cricket team to a thrilling victory in the 2005 Ashes as team captain.

In the art world however, Vaughan’s name is uttered in the same breath as Jackson Pollock, having spent the last twelve months hurling paint smothered cricket balls at canvases in the name of ‘Art-balling.’

How the former cricket captain went from Ashes to Artist is not so far-fetched a tale. He’s certainly not the first sports personality to take a detour into the world of modern art, having shown an interest since his school days and spending rained-off afternoons visiting Shoreditch art galleries, taking in the work of contemporaries such as tennis player, Martina Navratilova.

Shortly after retiring from his role as England’s cricket captain, Vaughan decided to combine his two greatest passions. Since last December, he has created more than 50 canvases from his Bakewell warehouse that are in many ways, a visual – albeit abstract – tribute to his career.

By his own admission, he maintains that Art-balling was not all fun and games in the beginning. Striving for a look that was both modern and contemporary, but that ultimately reflects his favourite cricketing accolades, took a lot of trial and error.

“Art-balling is about trying to re-create the movement of the ball through the canvas, whether that’s through the mix of colours, or by batting the ball or rolling it across the floor. Every canvas is different. It’s fun, but I take it very seriously,” says Vaughan.

Cricket fans can revel in the knowledge that Vaughan utilises his most famous skills in creating his unique paint splashes, using a series of pulls, drives and square cuts with different levels of force for effect. Many of his pieces paint a larger picture as it were, his favourite canvas being ‘September 2005’ (for obvious reasons one would imagine), showing Vaughan lifting the Ashes surrounded by tiny confetti splatters.

Vaughan may draw upon his time as an experienced batsman to inform his work but he is adamant that the line between ‘art’ and ‘sport’ is far from distant.

“I think all sportsmen are artists when they are out there on the field,” says Vaughan, matter-of-factly. “All the thoughts and emotions that you feel when you are playing cricket are the same emotions that go into making art. The speed, the movement.. that’s what makes my work so cool,” he adds with a laugh.

This honest approach is probably what makes Vaughan’s work so accessible. Even though many of his former colleagues are amused by his artistic forrays, some of them have contributed to a series of work to be exhibited next summer, featuring the cricketing skills of Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff amongst others.

And his collaborations don’t end there. On the days where Art-balling is in full force, a small but dedicated team help with the logistics of creating Vaughan’s canvases from mixing paints to admin work. “Well, someone’s got to throw the ball,” he points out.

On a grander scale, the Sheffield resident has taken inspiration from Navratilova’s partnerships with artists, and enlisted in the artistic aid of Sasha Jaffrey, whom he describes as an ‘honour’ to work with. Their collaborations are set to hit galleries next year. Closer to home however, Vaughan cites his Yorkshire roots as a great influence on his work.

“There’s a lot of great artists in Sheffield, Joe Scarborough for one, and there are a couple of trendy places on Ecclesall Road (in Hunters Bar) that I regularly visit. But playing for Yorkshire has greatly inspired my work.”

Rather poignantly, Vaughan reveals that he is going to recreate the White Rose on canvas and donate it to the Yorkshire Cricket Club, a project which will surely require great skill in terms of aim and patience. But is he going to follow in the footsteps of former cricketter-turned artist, Jack Russell?

“Jack’s work is completely different to mine.. plus he’s been good for a very long time. I’ve got a long way to go before I get to Jack Russell standard.”

Vaughan’s Art-balling collection is showing at Castle Galleries in Leeds, Harrogate, Sheffield Meadowhall and York.  Artwork sold between November 28 and December 20 will be entered into a prize draw to win an Art-balling session with the man himself.

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