Durangoan and Olympic biathlete Lanny Barnes went to the Winter Olympics in South Korea, but this time, she traded her cross-country skis and rifle for paint and canvases.
Barnes, who retired from competitive biathlon after the 2014 Olympics, was one of four Olympians – three artists and a videographer – selected to travel to the Games to work as an artist-in-residence for the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Art Project.
A professional artist who specializes in drawing wildlife, Barnes joined U.K. javelin thrower Roald Bradstock, Greek-American runner Alexi Pappas and Swiss fencer Jean-Blaise Evéquoz.
The IOC created the project to promote Olympic values through art and to try to bridge the gap between art and sport, Barnes said.
“There’s a huge cultural and art component to the Olympics itself – the opening and closing ceremonies being very artistic and cultural and creative,” she said. “There are so many things throughout the Games with art displays and things like that, but they never connected that to the athletes or tried to get them to participate in those activities.”
The connection between art and sports used to play a larger role at the Olympics. From 1912 to 1948, the IOC awarded medals to artists for sculpting, painting, literature, architecture and music. Artists submitted work inspired by sports to an international jury, who awarded gold, silver and bronze medals to the winners.
When Pierre de Coubertin founded the modern Olympic Games, he did so with the belief that there is more to life than being an elite athlete, Barnes said.
“His belief was that sports could help you become a well-rounded person, but you needed everything else,” Barnes said. “His idea with the modern Games was to include all those aspects. Obviously, over time, the arts kind of fell to the wayside, and it’s all about sports, so the IOC is trying to bring those components back in.”
Barnes worked as an artist-in-residence in the Olympic Village during the second week of the Games, which were held in February in PyeongChang. The artists created 15 individual paintings, one for each sport, with the goal of getting as many Olympians as possible to help contribute to the paintings. The IOC wanted the project to promote friendship and respect, and to give Olympians a way to express themselves beyond competing, Barnes said, adding that athletes from all over the world became friends.
“There were times where we had six or eight different countries there together and they were just hanging out,” she said. “It was really cool, because in a lot of different settings, these athletes would be fierce rivals and not necessarily get together and do something.”
For Barnes, art and athletics have always worked in tandem. She developed an interest in both at the same time while growing up.
“I loved drawing horses. I was a horse girl when I was a kid,” she said. “I was always fascinated by art, and it was the one thing that could get me in a seat long enough because I was very active. I felt like they (sports and art) helped each other in a lot of ways. There’s a lot that I learned from sport that I could transfer over to my art and vice-versa, like the discipline and focus.”
As Barnes got older, selling her artwork also helped pay the bills in college. It also helped her and her twin sister, Tracy, also an Olympian, to continue to compete as biathletes. Lanny Barnes competed in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 Games.
“For me, it has a really special connection, sport and art. For me, they’ve always gone hand in hand,” she said.
After the Olympics in South Korea, the paintings were packed up and shipped to the Olympic Museum in Switzerland. Barnes said she hopes they are sent on a world tour.
“It’s such a unique piece of art. There’s 111 Olympians from 39 countries that helped contribute to this artwork,” she said.
Barnes said the IOC wants to continue the arts program, running it at every Olympic Games and adding to the Youth Olympics. The goal of the project is also be an educational platform.
“Think of how many schools across the country and across the world do art projects during the Olympics,” she said. “Why not use Olympians – send them out into schools – where they can help and be a part of those projects for kids and inspire them?”