For onetime varsity athletes, pursuit of the visual arts is a natural progression

For Rick Borg, a member of Ohio State University’s 1979 golf team that won the NCAA championship who later played on the pro golf circuit, the art is in the way he envisions the imaginary line the ball will inscribe in the air before he fires off a shot.

For Percy King, who played free safety for the football Buckeyes and went on to a brief stint in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs, it is in the single-minded commitment to developing a skill that is required of serious athletes.

Both have turned to the arts as a second chapter in their lives, identifying a direct line between their athleticism and passionate pursuit of sport and a similar commitment that has brought them success as working artists. Borg and King join a host of others as the focus of the new Varsity Arts exhibition at the Peggy R. McConnell Arts Center in Worthington.

“Spending 12 to 14 hours a day in the garage working on these pieces – it’s nothing for me,” says King, whose largescale three-dimensional portraits of hip-hop artists, athletes and other iconic black figures are made from layers of plywood and other wood. He developed his technique while making furniture – specifically, an armoire with an inlaid portrait of Bob Marley in the door. “I got halfway through,” he says, “and decided it was a piece of art.”

King’s works, which have been purchased by such local luminaries as Eddie George and Larry and Donna James, now sell for thousands of dollars. The two on exhibit at the Mac are offered at $9,000 each.

The exhibition was conceived by former OSU tennis coach John Daly. In 2011, Daly visited an exhibition of art made by Olympians and, recalling that five of his former team members had become visual artists, he wondered if there were more OSU athletes making art. With support from the Ohio Arts Council and the McConnell Arts Center, Varsity Arts was born.

Borg, who played golf on the pro circuit following his 1980 graduation from OSU, says he was always interested in art; in fact, he studied art as an undergraduate and went on to get an MFA at the university. “I think my art is actually why I’m good at golf,” he says. “It’s my sensitivity to visuals. Golf is like drawing in the air with the ball.”

Borg’s colorful paintings, which have been exhibited in galleries across the country and are represented in Columbus by the Sharon Weiss Gallery, might be described as folkloric or primitive, but he doesn’t like those words. “I’ll say it’s advanced children’s art,” he says. “It’s an exploration; a daydream. It’s carefree.”

Others included in the McConnell show, which runs through Oct. 14, include wood artist Bruce Kerns, a member of the riflery team who went on to a career in the Army but turned to wood-turning following his 1999 retirement; brothers Raul and Rod Sanchez, former OSU tennis players who are audio-visual artists working in New York; sculptor Bruce Hanners, a former wrestler and a 1971 OSU grad who is currently working on a commission from Charity Newsies for a sculpture to be installed at the corner of Broad and High in Downtown Columbus; and Rhode Island-based painter Jeffrey Sparr, a former tennis player and the founder of an international organization called PeaceLove, aimed at helping people “create peace of mind through expressive arts and storytelling.”

The exhibition will run through Oct. 14. Several artist talks are planned but dates are not yet set; visit mcconnellarts.org for information.