Hollingsworth: Picasso over Maradona
(Former College of Charleston and Charleston Battery player)
(Video at link above) Following serious injury, American soccer player makes unusual career move. Today he exhibits throughout US. 'Art saved my life' he says to Ynet
Published: 06.10.10, 16:49 / Israel Culture
VIDEO - Until three and a half years ago, the only thing Benjamin Hollingsworth thought about was to fulfill his childhood dream: To be a professional soccer player. Today he's no longer running or kicking balls so much as painting, sketching and, occasionally, taking photos.
This young American, 27 years old, is a rare case of a soccer player who turned artist at the height of his sport career. A bad injury forced a sideways career move, from the green to the multi-colored, from the field to the artist's studio where he works today.
"I was injured and never recovered," Hollingsworth says during an interview with Ynet. "I couldn't walk for two years, and it was in those two years, when I started the transition (to art)."
Surprisingly, the last time he played soccer professionally was in Israel, to where he came in January 2007, invited by Maccabi Tel Aviv. He was tested for about a week, then released due to an injury to the sole of his right foot.
"The last time I ever put on a soccer uniform of any kind was for Maccabi Tel Aviv," he says. "What Maccabi, as well as I, didn't realize was the severity of my foot injury. I had fractured a bone in my foot in a play-off match in September in the US. I had the surgery and did physical therapy for 3-4months. By December, I was getting phone calls from clubs in Sweden, Norway, MLS (US), and Italy... Then out of the blue, I had received a phone call from Maccabi for the trials."
After each training session he would go back to the hotel in agony, put his foot in a bucket of ice and swallow painkillers. When the limping got worse, he was released.
When he returned home, he discovered that the pain was caused by a serious medical error. The doctor "eventually told me he had misplaced the screws and I would have to see a specialist to have the surgery redone all over again." He was in and out of plaster for two years, and his foot just became worse.
My right foot
"My only option was to either limp around for the rest of my life in pain or to have a bone fusion... where two large screws would join my ankle and my foot together," he says. "I would have permanent loss of mobility in my right foot, but I would be able to walk. So I had the fusion."
And he never played soccer again.
"Little by little I started to paint and draw everyday as well," he continues. "I lived next to the public library at one point and started reading art history books I went to Paris and would go to all the galleries and museums I was completely consumed by art I had no idea where it would take me I never told anyone what I was doing... I just did it."
Then by chance he met a famous comic book drawer who was working for Marvel Comics at the time who said he might be able to get Hollingsworth a job. This didn't work out, "but as soon as got out off my last cast I packed all that I owned and moved to NYC and moved into a small apartment in the Lower East Side... (It was so small that) my tub was in my kitchen."
"I went to all the galleries and museums almost daily and started stapling large canvas to my walls and painting larger works," he says. At the same time he began working in a studio in return for meals, watching everything that went on. "All the while I was painting in my apartment and photographing friends and myself usually in the nude and outdoors... I never knew what would come all of this."
Art to overcome tragedy
In March 2009 his stepfather was diagnosed with cancer and Hollingsworth was compelled to leave it all and return to Charleston to support him, but he didn't give up on his new passion.
"I lived in empty building in the middle of downtown Charleston and started producing new work for an idea I had to for a solo exhibit," he says. In May, he took advantage of the empty space for the exhibition, which put him "on the map."
"Since then things have taken off," he says. "I now have a warehouse studio in Charleston and another studio in NYC and I go back and forth from Charleston and NYC... Art saved me, and helped me get over a very, very tragic event in my life."
Coming to terms with the loss of his sport career was not easy, and his new path was considered a strange choice by friends and family.
"I never asked what they thought about the switch," he says. "Those who know me best didn't even think twice about the transition... but also instead of just telling everyone I was an artist, I just put my head down and made the art and then people can label me and the art what they want. I was always going to do it, whether fans or teammates got it or not."
Hollingsworth may not have felt the need to take people's opinions into consideration, but he is more sensitive to New York artists. It is not clear to what extent he will be able to get accepted into this exclusive club. There was always the fear that he would be ignored because of his background, which he says may be the reason he didn't tell anyone about it.
"I've been carrying a sketch pad with me since I was 12 years old," he says. "That fear of being discredited has only pushed me harder and made me work that much more."
'Such a beautiful game'
Hollingsworth works in a very mixed media format, from installations and photographs to large scale paintings. "I think allot of it is very raw in nature but there are always underlining themes and concepts," he says. "I tend to do things in series."
"Soccer doesn't directly get in my art," he adds, "but what I've learned and experienced through it certainly does."
Does he miss playing soccer?
"The last time I played an organized game of soccer was in January of 2007 on trial at Maccabi," he says. "When Maccabi contacted me, I was extremely happy. I had just come off of two unprecedented years of playing professionally in the US... where I had won numerous awards and if I had not been hurt before I was called into Maccabi... who knows... I'm sure it might have been a whole other experience."
"But that wasn't the case," he continues. "I still have a hitch in my step. It's not that I don't want to play soccer... I just can't kick with my right foot, period. Yeah, of course I miss playing. Soccer is such a beautiful game and it has given me so much... but it doesn't define me as a person. I loved it, but now I love art. Art saved my life."
Despite the change in his life, he still keeps up with what's happening in the world of soccer, especially now, just before the World Cup.
"I'll be cheering for the USA of course," he declares. "I went to high school with a bunch of the players who are playing for them."
He is more hesitant about predicting the winners, but adds, "I always go for Italy... They just know how to pull off the big wins somehow."
And if he had a chance, who would he rather be Maradona or Picasso?
"There will be another Maradona," he says, "but there will never be another Picasso."