From Martial Arts to the world of Art

While many could view judo and modern art as being a bit like oil and water, Neil Eckersley, a former Olympic judo bronze medallist has successfully made moves to the world of fine arts, writes Donna Richardson.

Born and raised on the streets of Salford, Neil Eckersley was Britain’s leading extra-lightweight judo player for a decade, winning his bronze at the Los Angeles Games of 1984.

As a 19-year-old Eckersley was part of the judo dream team, when Neil Adams, Dennis Stewart and Kerrith Brown were all competing all over the world.

He said: “Travelling the world for judo competitions really opened up my eyes,” he said.

“What really fascinates me are Cityscapes. Every country I travelled to and competed in has inspired me. Especially Japan.

“I spent quite a bit of time in Tokyo, Paris and London while competing. I also taught mixed martial arts in New York and my most recent paintings are about Manhattan.”

He also draws inspiration from the Lakes when he was based in Kendal, Cumbria.

He has coached the national junior team for many years and has been recently been awarded an Associate Professorship with the European and USA Kilohana Association.

But recently he has gone back to another passion and his stunning portfolio of new works have been showcased on the Saatchi online collection of paintings by up and coming artists. Neil, now living in Lancaster, explains how his love of art began, saying:

Neil Eckersley Art

“I grew up in a tough area, which explains why I wanted to learn how to look after myself – but the art came from a need to express myself and give an outlet for my creative urges.

“I’d always had a problem with the written word because of my dyslexia but found painting to be the perfect way to express emotions and things I wanted to put across.

“At school I was good at sport and art. Obviously my judo career took off and I always painted on the road but after I retired there was more time to dedicate to my art.

“I see it as a discipline, like judo and I have always found time to paint while I have been away at competitions. I find it therapeutic and I use my art as a way to get my thoughts on paper.”

According to Eckersley, judo and art actually go side-by-side. “I’ve always painted on the road, even when I was at the Games. After training and on rest days, I would use my time to visit the art galleries and taking photos of the skyline. Then when I returned to my training base in the Lakes,

“I would spend days on end painting in the remote wilderness. I feel compelled to paint every day,” he admits.

“Of course I do combine this with regular training and my work in and around the county of Cumbria.”“However, painting does take time and now that I don’t compete, I have a lot more time to dedicate to my art.

Painting itself, he says, is a relatively quick process and he uses acrylics as they are quick drying and they allow faster movement too, like in judo.

Eckersley’s style is very much abstract and he loves acrylic paints because of the movement that it allows.

“I would describe my art as abstract I use acrylic and water-based paints and I also experiment with pixel art. “Martial artists are creative. After all our sport is all about movement and it is modelled on the gentle way.

Art is also about movement and all of this interests me, but I am not a judo artist.” Instead he draws inspiration from the environments that he visits.

“I soak in my environment and I fill up with all of these experiences like a creative tank. I know when I need to empty it, when I need to paint.”

He also adds that it is common for a lot of the original Japanese masters to be drawn to art.

“I am told that a lot of the founding fathers of the sport were very good artists as well as judoka.

A lot of people do not see the softer side of judo and the beauty of the sport is its creativity.” However, it is hard to break into the art world, he admits.

“You have to have a very thick skin to go knocking on doors in the art world,” he said. “Finding galleries in London willing to take your work is quite hard, but I have had some local exhibitions. I still travel quite extensively with my martial arts and always have an eye on interesting new subjects to represent in my abstract work.”

“It’s an exciting area to explore and requires a different kind of discipline – but it’s something I really enjoy and in which I’m getting a fair bit of interest.”

Neil’s latest works feature the New York skyline. He staged a local exhibition featuring a collection of his contemporary work, entitled ‘City SkyScapes and Feelings of the Soul’, at the Thomas Storey Room, the Storey Gallery, Lancaster.

One of Neil’s proudest moments is being chosen to take part in the 2012 London Olympic ceremony.

Before they lit the cauldron former Olympians were invited to hand the flame to the next generation.

To find out more about Neil Eckersley and his art by visiting: