Celebrated British artist Jeremy Houghton was last year’s Wimbledon championship artist, capturing players including Roger Federer on their way to glory. This year, he returns to the tournament to capture the event once again, in celebration of the All England Club’s 150th anniversary. Here, Jeremy tells us exactly what it’s like creating art court-side, as well as how to spend the perfect day at Wimbledon…
Wimbledon Artist: Jeremy Houghton Interview
What does being the championship artist at Wimbledon consist of?
I was the championship artist last year, and they’ve asked me to come back this year and do some paintings and put on an exhibition for [the All England Club’s] 150th anniversary and to help raise some money for the Wimbledon Foundation.
Every year they have a different artist of some capacity, before me it was a glass sculptor, before that it was a poet, before that it was someone who worked with water. It’s a very diverse portfolio of art that they’ve involved in the championships. They hadn’t had a painter for a while and my remit for my tenure was to produce paintings of the actual match play, the energy and the narratives that unfolded on the court. I would usually, as a resident artist, try and go through the doors that say ‘private’ and tell the untold story, but they had a shortage of paintings of the tennis players doing what they do best. They asked me to sit on the edge of the court and produce a body of work that reflected what unfolded in the heat of the moment.
This year I’ll be producing the same kind of paintings but with a bit more of a historical element, to celebrate the 150-year landmark. The great thing about Wimbledon is that as well as being very proud of its traditions, it’s also at the cutting edge of tennis and it’s forever modernising and looking ahead. I will try and produce a few paintings of the former great, throw in a McEnroe tantrum, Borg with his curls and his wooden racket, Billy Jean and all the greats. They’re still such a part of Wimbledon.
This is a returning role, and you’ve also been the artist at the London 2012 Olympics, what have been your highlights to capture?
Wimbledon has been the highlight. It’s such a magical tournament. It’s the one sporting event that people go to to actually watch the sport. Most of the other summer season sports such as Ascot, Henley, people go for the hats, the glasses, the champagne, a lot of the sport gets bypassed or not seen. At Wimbledon, how the crowds are sat, you’re such an important part of the match – the vibe of the crowd and who the crowd supports, the noise and the energy – it really can make a difference to the match. It’s a nice focused tournament, in my work with the Americas Cup or the Olympics, these are long tournaments and sporting events. With the Olympics it was a two-year project, I painted the journey to London 2012, two years following the athletes. The Americas Cup was an 18-month journey – these drawn out periods almost dilutes the impact of the actual sport, but Wimbledon is just two weeks and it’s such a privilege to watch the tournament unfold from start to finish and be there every day. Wimbledon has been my best yet.
How does one spend the perfect day at Wimbledon?
Get there nice and early and wander around the outside courts, watch the doubles, the mixed doubles, the disabilities tennis, the seniors matches, it’s great fun and all part of the story. There are some less serious matches, and when you take the serious element out of it the tennis actually improves in many ways. The practice courts can give you an interesting insight, too. Then enjoy a nice lunch, a bit of champagne, a few strawberries, a bit of cream on top. Then get into Centre Court with hopefully a good seat and just have the privilege of watching the match from start to finish, and hopefully it’s a five-set humdinger, which keeps everyone on their toes. We’re lucky we’ve got four of the best players of all time at the moment in Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray. To see these superstars like a boxing match on top of each other for a five-hour match would be pretty entertaining.
The paintings Jeremy creates at this year’s championships will be displayed in a special exhibition at the All England Club from 25 September with a proportion of the proceeds donated to the Wimbledon Foundation. www.jeremyhoughton.co.uk.