There's more than one David Beckham

Twenty-three of Britain's best-known artists have produced new work based on the England football star. But why does he so captivate the art world? asks Jonathan Brown
Click to follow
The Independent Online

He may endure a rough ride from the media, and at times his marriage comes under as much scrutiny as his football. But the art world, it seems, is rather more understanding of the troubled England captain. Fresh from being celebrated in a National Portrait Gallery film showing him sleeping off the exertions of a Real Madrid training session, 23 of Britain's leading artists have now turned their attention to the subject of David Beckham.

He may endure a rough ride from the media, and at times his marriage comes under as much scrutiny as his football. But the art world, it seems, is rather more understanding of the troubled England captain. Fresh from being celebrated in a National Portrait Gallery film showing him sleeping off the exertions of a Real Madrid training session, 23 of Britain's leading artists have now turned their attention to the subject of David Beckham.

Tracey Emin, Antony Gormley, Peter Blake and Peter Howson are among those to contribute work to a charity auction today to mark the Diamond Jubilee of The National Deaf Children's Society. And what better subject for the sale, which is expected to raise in excess of £150,000, than the man with the most famous, and expensive, earrings in sport?

Emin emerges as Beckham's most devoted cheerleader. She has contributed an original piece in which she can be seen, clad only in a pair of flowery knickers, face down on her rumpled bed, writing something approaching a fan letter to the star. "This may sound strange," she writes, "but sometimes I believe people forget who you are and what you have achieved, for Britain and your sport, in fact, sometimes it actually makes me quite angry.

"You're one of the best midfielders England has ever seen, and on top of that you are a really good captain who appears to have respect and following from the rest of your team. OK, you're in the limelight, you and your wife Victoria gather attention for every little detail of your lives. But that has nothing to do with your football, you should be judged on your game and nothing else; when people do start judging you, all this does is hinder and effect your game. David, when I was your age I was signing on. Don't let them get you down."

She said yesterday: "I think David Beckham gets a really hard time and even if he and Victoria rise to the media, people should understand what a phenomenal footballer he is. She's successful in her own right. How many people haven't heard of the Spice Girls? They are both really young and in two years she could be doing something different. People in Britain hate success."

Sheilagh Tennant, who approached the artists for today's sale at Christie's, said she was able to draw on a deep well of good feeling and empathy for the footballer. "In keeping with Tracey Emin's attitude, people feel much the same. He is victimised and pilloried in the media gratuitously. But when I asked the artists, no one has done anything that comes across as remotely negative towards him."

But for Peter Mowson, the former Bosnia war artist who, inspired by Francisco de Goya and Hieronymus Bosch, specialises in the grizzled faces of Glasgow street-drinkers, Beckham is a puzzling, if commercially adroit choice. Mowson has contributed a 1998 oil painting of Spanish footballers, representing the Beckhams' adopted home. But although he considers the footballer "bland" he is not unmoved by his international appeal.

"I'm just come back from Palestine because I want to make a documentary about my conversion to Christ. When we entered these compounds there would be these little Palestinian kids. Despite all their problems, the hassle they were getting from the Israelis, all the hardship they were enduring, when they saw me all they wanted to talk about was one thing: David Beckham." Mowson concedes this may be an updated version of the old joke that no matter how far a British traveller ventured, people would always greet them with the mention of Bobby Charlton.

But, he says, it was a similar story in Bosnia, although this time with a different footballer. "I tried to paint Beckham once before for my charity Third Step, which was set up to help people battling addiction. I wanted to paint him in the nude. But I couldn't get near him. You see him everywhere; he's on television, he's in photographs, in fashion. What's the allure? He's good-looking in a conventional way, though give me a balding Bobby Charlton any day. As a footballer, he's overrated, as a person he interests me very little. But there's a blandness about him that's fascinating.

"When you look at football, there were so many others who were more gifted, more passionate, but who never attained the same level of celebrity as Beckham, let alone the same amount of money. People such as Jimmy Greaves, George Best, even Paul Gascoigne. Someone like Gazza is a really interesting character, more interesting than Beckham, completely self-destructive. But Beckham is an enigma; I don't know what he believes in. You cannot get to the person."

Also among the artists are Turner Prize nominees Cathy de Monchaux and David Mach. There is also a piece by the former Frankie Goes to Hollywood singer Holly Johnson, who has contributed a piece entitled Balls of Gold and Dick of Diamond, which owes more to the George Cross than gilt-edged Beckham genitalia. Another piece by the Little Artists, recreates the moment Beckham bought one of Damien Hirst's "Butterfly" paintings last year, in Lego.

The man himself has donated an autographed football shirt.

The charity, NDCS, founded in 1944, helps those affected by childhood deafness. Every year, about 840 children are born in Britain with a significant hearing loss, and a million experience temporary deafness caused by glue ear.

The event was conceived by artist Hugo Rittson-Thomas, who has been deaf since childhood. "David Beckham is the most globally recognised icon of the decade," he said. "He appeals to boys and girls, young and old, gay and straight. I can't think of anyone else with his reach."

Comments