The most exciting thing to come out of the Journey To Greatness event, a product of six months worth of passion and process, insight and inspiration from four groups of talented graduates plucked from the University of the Arts institutions is this: The journey is not over.
The graduates were challenged – with the support of their mentors Lawrence Zeegen and Dave White – to interpret what drives world-class athletes and turn this essence into a piece of graphic art that will be showcased in a t-shirt collection.
Now, as the project reaches its conclusion and the athletes – Paula Radcliffe, Dai Green, Harry Aikines-Aryeetey and Allyson Felix – set their minds and hearts on the biggest summer of competition they’re likely to ever experience, we spoke to both mentors to get further insight into what this brief meant to them and the grads.
Dave White, who also created a t-shirt for the collection, comes from a traditional foundation in art and has since gone on to develop an incredibly dynamic and emotive body of work, exemplifying the energy and passion that this project requires. The greatest challenge he highlighted was what he referred to as the “orchestra effect” of having 16 “incredibly talented individuals” who might be totally unknown to each other and yet were handpicked, each with their own voice.
But like Dave, these grads used their education as a set of skills from which they could springboard; “one of the most unexpected things to happen was that the teams didn’t rely on previous techniques or media – nobody was predictable” and nobody, it transpired, was not part of a team-driven journey as they endeavoured to execute their ideas.
The access to athletes and their “amazing spirit and energy” was an incredible catalyst according to Dave. He remarked that, very quickly, the groups began to push each other away from just designing a t-shirt, “it became about physically and mentally understanding how these athletes function” he said, “about why they do what they do.”
Lawrence spoke of his role as being one to “push the grads harder” – like a personal trainer to Dave’s coach – and, as an educationalist, he was perfectly equipped to help the teams recognise synergies with the athletes, promoting conversations about the “dedication” necessary in both fields and, maybe most importantly, to ask questions of the athletes that no one, who wasn’t them and didn’t have such a special opportunity, could possibly ask.
In a presentation given by Dave and Lawrence during the event, they spoke of an afternoon spent in the inimitably buoyant company of American sprinter Allyson Felix. It uncovered so much more for the graduates than if she spent that time with the professional journalists who were waiting outside. The insights that she provided could fuel a visual response and were delivered as brilliant, anecdotal gems. Like, what colour was Athens for her? Pure yellow. And the colour she saw as she crossed the line second in Beijing? Black.
This immersion with the athletes was key: The graduates were able to use the intimacy and honesty achieved in these sessions and go on to have it inform their work. “What the grads created” explained Dave, “could not have come from any other process than from one that was completely heartfelt and on a par with the level of understanding afforded to them by the athletes.”
It’s the thing both mentors are firmly in agreement on; the parallel journey that art and sport traverse. This is a notion that the four teams of graduates have proven in their approaches and passion during Journey To Greatness. “The world’s best creatives are just as focussed as the world’s best athletes” Lawrence remarks, “commitment” and a “drive to do the next best thing” are all iterated during our conversation. In Dave’s statement that sits alongside his own design, he makes an incredibly positive summation of this as “the spark of inspiration from one’s soul, driving a primal desire to create or to explore into movement.”
It would be strange then, that after all this, the graduates (and the mentors) would drop this attitude of positive assertion and collaboration with unexpected individuals. Obviously this isn’t the case, the spirit of the night was an over-arching pride and real sense of accomplishment – something I’m certain the grads who told me they’d signed up for a ten kilometer run the following Sunday will be feeling by the bucket load.