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USC art exhibition raises a question: Has any strong visual artist also been an accomplished athlete?

January 31, 2011 |  9:00 am

Has a reasonably accomplished athlete –- someone who had at least a pretty good run as a team member or solo competitor in intercollegiate or professional sports –- ever gone on to be a reasonably acclaimed visual artist?

The question arises from USC’s announcement that its sixth annual “Artletics” exhibition will open Thursday at the Galen Center, home to the university’s men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball varsities.

TMitchMustainSkalijhe show consists of pieces made in studio art courses -- mainly ceramics, but also photography, drawings and paintings, such as "Ansel and Me" (above) by Greg Woodburn, a distance runner on the track  team. The highest-profile competitor/creators are Mitch Mustain (pictured left), the backup quarterback who started against Notre Dame during the past season, and Garrett Jackson, who sees a fair amount of action as a freshman on the basketball varsity.

TMattSagehornMyungJChunhe news release about the exhibition also notes that six of the 20 artists in the show have played on water polo teams that won men’s or women’s national championships (including photographer Matt Sagehorn, pictured, and ceramic sculptor Andrew Hayes, whose "Pollock, a Tea Pot," is pictured below), and another was on the women’s volleyball team that ascended to the Final Four in last year’s NCAA championships. 

The annual show of athlete-artists' work honor alumnus Louis Galen, who died in 2007 and was a major supporter of both athletics and the arts at USC, where, along with the basketball arena, the ceramics studio and a media lab at the Roski School of Fine Arts bear the Galen name (the lab is named for his wife, Helene).

But back to our question. What, if any, congruence has there been between accomplishment in  the visual arts and sports? Or, for that matter, sports and any of the arts, broadening out to music, dance, theater, architecture and film/video?

Please add your ideas to the comments below. Remember, the artist’s athletic accomplishments had to be in college or the pros, not just high school. As anyone who’s seen Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” could tell you, schoolboy stars who had no follow-through -- the Biff Lomans of the world -- are a dime a dozen.

WaymTisdaleBillBaptistNBAEGettyImages And we don’t want to hear about the likes of Jack McDowell, who was a tremendous major league pitcher, but strictly semi-pro as a 1990s alternative-rocker, or Rod Stewart, who can kick all the soccer balls he pleases into his concert audiences, without qualifying as an athlete for our current purpose, which requires college-varsity or professional credentials. And yes, we know that O.J. Simpson, Jim Brown, Shaquille O'Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar all have had credits playing fictional characters in films.  But no, we don’t consider them artists for having done it.The same goes for the large posse of sports stars who are would-be rappers, Shaq among them.

What we’re looking for are bona fide artists whose achievements as jocks or jock-ettes are comparable at least to that of film star Tommy Lee Jones, who as an offensive lineman for Harvard in 1968 threw blocks in one of the most legendary college football games ever played. The man himself reminisces about it in the 2008 documentary film about that tie game between undefeated teams, “Harvard Beats Yale 29-29.” 

WaymanTisdaleLawrenceKHo Others who come to mind are Paul Robeson, who before triumphing as an actor and singer had excelled as a four-sport athlete at Rutgers, including All-American honors in football; Paul Newman, a pretty fair professional race car driver in his spare time; and the late Wayman Tisdale (pictured in both realms), who starred on the basketball court (three-time All-American at Oklahoma, 1984  Olympic gold medalist on a team with Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing, solid 12-year NBA career) and the concert stage, where he was an accomplished electric bassist, bandleader and recording artist whose albums and songs topped the Billboard jazz chart.

Culture Monster hopes visual art can be saved from a shutout. Let us know.

-- Mike Boehm

Photos: "Ansel and Me" (top), painting by Greg Woodburn of USC's varsity track and field team; Mitch Mustain poised to throw for USC against Notre Dame; water polo star Matt Sagehorn in the pool during high school days at Long Beach Wilson; "Pollock, a Tea Pot," painted ceramic by Andrew Hayes of USC's 2010 NCAA championship varsity water polo team; Wayman Tisdale as a Sacramento King and as a jazzman. Credits: Greg Woodburn/USC ("Ansel and Me"); Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times (Mustain); Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times (Sagehorn); Andrew Hayes/USC "Pollock, a Tea Pot"; Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images (Tisdale basketball); Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times (Tisdale musician).