The Art of Running
We caught up for a coffee with Hackney based, Bahamian artist, Victoria Park Harrier & 2:53 marathoner Blue Curry to chat about his art, running and where the two worlds to collide.
So, you’re an artist and a runner. An unexpected combination…
I’ve been making art for most of my life and only picked up a pair of running shoes about 5 years ago when I moved to Hackney, just opposite Victoria Park actually. Never having had a sporty bone in my body it was a huge surprise to discover in my 40s that I wasn’t a bad runner at all. From a very young age I was taught that art and sport were in two separate camps, but I’ve met quite a few artist runners now and realise there’s far more overlap than you’d imagine. Sport and art can be mutually beneficial.
AI: Your work was recently featured in the Life Between Islands exhibition at Tate Britain which is quite an accomplishment. Both of your sculptures, especially Caribbean Queen, struck me as a very painstaking process to create. Could you describe the ways in which your craft informs your running?
BC: I’d say making art totally prepared me to be a runner. For years I was building up some of the qualities that are key for distance running while making my works. Firstly, the making of Caribbean Queen (pictured below), required real endurance. It took almost a year to flatten the giant palm leaf the piece is made of, to drill thousands of holes into it and then weave hundreds of feet of cassette tape through them - a literal marathon!
Also, like running, there’s so much repetitive action in what I do, to the point of physical fatigue. Endurance, repetition… and, oh yeah, solitude. It’s a very solitary process making work in the studio, and you learn to become good friends with the solo pursuit for hours on end.
Al: So, when you finish a work is it the same rush you get from finishing a race?
BC: Not quite. Art is really subjective, and you never know truly where you stand; you don’t know how your work will be received, uncertainty and a certain lack of control of outcomes are part of the experience. Effort and time put in do not necessarily translate into a successful work and so you never really know if you’ve made it to the finish line. Running on the other hand is quantifiable and dedication (typically) has a tangible impact on your fitness and results which can be measured by a stopwatch and rankings. You know when you’ve done well. So in a way I do think the two balance each other for me in a really positive way.
AI: It would be great to hear more about your meeting creatives through running...
BC: The great thing about running is that you only really need to have your shoes to do it so as I’m on the move a lot for work, wherever I go I can run. When I was on a three-month residency recently, I started a running group with artists working in the same studio building. We had little in common artistically but on weekend runs we had conversations and exchanged ideas that eventually led to collaborative projects. I started making a list of the artist runners I’d meet all over and the numbers inspired to set up a running club for creatives of all stripes, called the ‘Artful Joggers’ (pun intended!). It’s about to officially launch in the summer with monthly runs as a way for artists to find community and exchange ideas through running, as I’ve done over the years.
AI: What is your running experience in London as compared to the Caribbean?
They are two totally different spaces when it comes to running culture. London is jam-packed with runners, races and clubs which most certainly made me want to be a runner but as far as distance running back home in the Caribbean goes, it’s not really a popular thing. It’s an impractical pursuit there in many ways. People think I’d just go idyllic sunny runs on the beach there but running on sand just destroys your ankles and if you don’t run before sunrise, you just burn up! Back in London the cooler temps and more space make a regular training program more comfortable, and the abundance of races and runners - as well getting outpaced by the more youthful runners at the weekly VPH track sessions! - keeps me more motivated.
AI: You just ran the Boston Marathon, what are your future ambitions for your running?
BC: Improving on my PB would be a good start! Beyond that I’ve got aspirations to finish all the 6 majors with sub three-hour times - so far, so good! It was at the New York Marathon, seeing someone cross the finish line and receive the six-star medal, I thought to myself that it’d be great to get my hands on one of those. I’ve completed London, New York and Boston, Chicago is up next in October.
We then took a stroll from the café to Blue’s up and coming and under construction art space ‘Ruby Cruel’
AI: Tell me the about the idea behind this space, what you hope to achieve here and why Ruby Cruel?
BC: I wanted to start the space in response to the lack of small gallery spaces for artists in London. People are desperate for a resurgent D.I.Y. art scene as everything has become big, corporate, and boring. Artist led spaces are the incubators for the artists of the future, but they are becoming increasingly rare. So, it's going to be the sort of artist led non-profit space that we need more of now.
The name Ruby Cruel is actually just an anagram of my name which would also make a pretty good drag name if I ever wanted to change career! But seriously, the hope is that if this place can gain a good reputation, then it will be a great space for up-and-coming artists to have a platform to showcase their talents.
AI: You’re spot on about the decline in London’s cultural cache that’s going on.
BC: As artists get priced out, they leave London and with them they take the creativity that the capital has thrived on. The days of finding huge, cheap unused warehouse properties in London are very much gone now and that puts the squeeze on artist studios, exhibition spaces, music venues etc… as long-term leases of what were once undesirable properties come to an end and developers pounce. Artists are leaving London in number. Subsidies for the arts that could help arts organizations buy some of these spaces which could halt the slow death of the grassroots art scene in the capital, but I’m not going to hold my breath!
AI: Where will you be exhibiting next?
BC: At the Documenta exhibition in Kassel Germany. It takes place every five years and features 100 days of site-specific city-wide art installations. I’ll be participating with an artist led group from Trinidad called Alice Yard. It’s one of those not-to-be-missed exhibitions in art world calendar so it’s pretty exciting to have been invited to participate.
Al: And finally, do you think you’ll ever make art about running?
BC: I already know of a few artists who have, so I wouldn’t be the first, but I do frequently look at the hook on my wall holding all of my race medals from over the years or the pile of trainers at the bottom of my closet I’ve gone through and see the ingredients for a sculpture just waiting to happen - watch this space! (laughing)