Columbus, Ohio USA
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Art at the Arnold
Fine art competition highlights athletic aesthetic

by Margaret Marten
January/February 2018 Issue

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Tim Bachman participating in last year’s Art at the Arnold – three days of drawing, painting, sculpting and other artistic media using athletes and models as the subjects and the Arnold Sports Festival as the backdrop. In its ninth year, the contest will be held March 2-4, 2018 in the Convention Center’s North Atrium. Visit



Thirty years of commitment to the art of bodybuilding, athletics, and competition will be celebrated over four days at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, the Ohio Expo Center and other venues when the Arnold Sports Festival converges for its 30th year of athletic competitions. In addition to an estimated 18,000 athletes and 200,000 fans, the festival will draw 45 to 50 visual artists from as far away as California to compete in its 9th annual Art at the Arnold.

Creating artwork from live fitness models and athletes, and from reference material gathered at festival sites, artists will be seated in the convention center’s North Atrium, stationed in front of their easels, competing for thousands of dollars during the Art at the Arnold event. The artists are geared to work quickly and efficiently to finish and frame their work over the course of two days.

The visual feast named Arnold Sports Festival is unparalleled when it comes to the presentation of the human form. A fine arts competition may seem a little less dazzling than a body building match, but it actually makes a lot of sense to include visual artists at the sports festival when one considers the concept of the elegance of form and how it aligns itself to both athletics and art.

Kevin Buckland and his wife Pertain Gillespie developed Art at the Arnold. As graphic designers for the festival’s marketing for many years, and artists themselves, the couple felt inspired to approach Arnold Schwarzenegger with their idea. He listened. It proved successful. “It’s very well received,” said Buckland. “The general public loves watching the artists work and be creative, and the athletes get involved. It’s just a wonderful thing. We really haven’t changed the format at all since the beginning.”

Upper Arlington resident Vivian Ripley, an accomplished painter and teacher, has participated in the art competition every year. She enjoys it, makes friends, and like any artist, hopes to win a prize or sell a painting, but she also recognizes the value it has for someone like herself who wants to work in a time element and keep up her skills. “I teach a lot of workshops,” she said, “and we always do a demonstration. Well, you’ve got to do that quickly too, so it’s good to keep up your skills that way.”

In fact, time is of the essence in this competition, so applicants are screened carefully for what is needed to compete effectively. Professionals demonstrating a talent for portraiture and execution are more likely to succeed. “We’re looking for an artist who understands the human figure and the athletic form,” said Buckland. “We like to accommodate everybody, but we’re trying to keep the level of work up.”

“They’re all professionals,” said Ken Marshall, a contestant from Westlake going on his third year at the Arnold, who has worked as a lead artist at newspapers for decades. “That’s part of the real pleasure of this thing – having your work up in competition against really talented people.”

Start to finish
Three live models are brought in on Friday morning at 8 a.m. for a warmup session the first day of the event. The artists view the same subjects, yet each person’s piece is unique, and they can work in any media. The public is able to observe from the walkway or enter the work area. Arnold usually drops by to see the artwork and talk to the artists. “That was a kick,” said Marshall. “He looked at my work and shook hands with me.”

Friday afternoon brings more adventures as artists scout out subjects within the various festival sites for additional work if they care to do that, or they may choose to settle on their initial live-model piece for final presentation. With camera and sketchbook in hand, some explore the festival in its entirety for athletic figures and take a photo or create a sketch to bring back to the work area for Saturday’s session.

During the all-day studio session on Saturday, the artists work to finish and frame a painting for the judges by the end of the day. They decide what subject to submit – either working from reference material gathered out in the field or from the live model piece they began on Friday. Meanwhile, thousands of visitors are streaming by, stopping to talk, offer advice, or happily purchasing a painting. “The crowd itself is probably as interesting as the athletes,” said Marshall. “You see some really interesting characters that come through there.”

What makes the project most exciting for these artists is that they can choose from a wide variety of athletics, working from some of the best physiques in the world. But that versatility may be tough for the judges who are trying to decide what makes each piece stand out from others. “We always have someone who’s pretty well known in the art end of things,” said Buckland about the judges. “And every year we try and switch them out.”

Sunday is display day, judgment day, sales day, and a day for more fun as artists compete amongst themselves in a quick draw contest of a live costume-bedecked model after the awards ceremony that morning. “They actually judge themselves on that by just how much noise they make when somebody holds a painting up,” said Buckland.

The gallery show of everything they’ve created all weekend is on display with some pieces for sale until 2 p.m. after which the artists are free to leave, recover, and ready themselves for next year’s round. Olivia Foss, who began competing four years ago, will be counting the days. “It’s the highlight of my year,” she said. “You get to meet so many different people – artists I usually don’t run into until the event.”

What’s new?
If you make it to the festival this March, you won’t have a problem finding Art at the Arnold. Just look for Matthew Mohr’s 14-foot interactive head sculpture As We Are. The space in the North Atrium where Mohr’s sculpture is centered provides plenty of natural light for the artists to work in and three times the square footage as previous years when they were stationed along the connector walkway. The extra space this year also means extra art. Arnold Fan Art will be on display– irreverent, fun pieces of satire and parody of Arnold. Art at the Arnold gives a sublime touch and added fun to the festivities, honoring the aesthetics of athletics with excellence in art.


New this year at the festival is the Jan Tana Arnold Classic Body Painting Revolution. The world’s top body painters will have six hours to transform a model into a Living Piece of Art, created in a fitness theme. This is being held along the connector between the hotel and the convention center.

Art at the Arnold and bodypainting are in public areas of the convention center. Admission is FREE.

© 2018 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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