Artist Uses Sports Equipment, Not Brushes, for Athlete Portraits

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Like many other people, artist Samantha Woj enjoys watching Olympic and Paralympic sporting events.

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When the opportunity arose to help support these athletes, Woj didn’t hesitate.

She donated six portraits of athletes to the CAN Fund — Canadian Athletes Now — Auction online until Wednesday March 23 at 10 p.m.

Every penny of funds raised will go to the CAN Fund.

There’s a twist in Woj’s work. In addition to painting with a brush, the Quebecer paints with sports equipment, including soccer balls, hockey pucks, ice skates and curling brooms.

It adds dimension to the art and draws attention to the athletes.

In an interview on Tuesday, Woj said she knows athletes need financial support to do what they do best, and things are getting even tougher for them during the pandemic.

But she was shocked to find out how little support Paralympians receive. This gold medal does not translate into financial aid at all.

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“I’ve always wanted to help them and show them that their accomplishments are recognized,” Woj said.

Woj has been an artist since childhood. Last summer, at the height of the pandemic, she had just completed a master’s degree in art therapy and had some time off. She had been studying for many years and painted less than she would have liked.

Then an ankle injury led her to do some ad hoc physical therapy with a soccer ball…and suddenly she decided to apply paint with this soccer ball. “I really liked the texture!”

Tennis balls and other sports spheres were then used.

As his biography explains, “The use of sports balls embodies the active, fleeting movement that occurs in sport…the works of art capture a space to permanently hold and reflect the invisible marks made to these times.”

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When three black British soccer players – Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho – were racially abused after missing penalties in the UEFA Euro final last July, Woj decided to paint their portraits using a soccer ball instead of a paintbrush.

It was an act of compassion and solidarity.

And the response has been overwhelming.

“I had a lot more reactions than I expected. So I thought I’d try to paint some of the Olympians going to Tokyo. Just to show them support from home,” she said.

“And it just took off.”

Painting with sports equipment is not a gimmick. It forges a different kind of connection, Woj said.

Using a curling broom, for example, was an experience. She discovered that curlers took out their brooms and it was hard to find one. Then the widow of an avid curler let Woj use her late husband’s broom. Later, she told Woj that she felt a new connection had been made.

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“I work a lot now with second-hand and broken objects, and it gives them new life through painting,” she said.

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Woj was born with ectrodactyly, also called split hands, and has only two fingers on each hand. It’s considered a handicap, but not for her.

“I was lucky to have people around me who were supportive and never saw it as a problem,” she said.

Growing up, she competed in soccer, skating, swimming and dancing.

“Nobody ever said to me, ‘maybe not.’ Of course, there were backlashes along the way, but the majority of people supported me,” she said.

“So yes, I have a disability, but that’s not what defines me.”

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