It’s almost unbelievable that 2012 has practically arrived and the countdown to the London Games is currently only 7 months long. The Royal Mail is celebrating this milestone in the grand style with the launch on 5 January of first class stamps with the Olympic and Paralympic logos on them. Apparently, it’s the first time that a commercial logo has featured on this type of stamp, so you can be sure that collectors will be queuing up to buy the earliest issues.
While looking at the Royal Mail website for details I took a closer look at the series of brightly coloured stamps featuring Olympic & Paralympic sports which have already appeared, and very attractive they are too! There will be 30 of these in all, and each has been designed by a different artist. I particularly like Matthew Hollings’ wheelchair rugby stamp, but every one of them is fascinating in its use of colour, imagery and its take on the sport it portrays. You can see all of them on the Telegraph’s website: http://tgr.ph/qtooir
Art and design has always had its place at the Olympic Games. The earliest of the revived Olympics had prizes for art, literature and so on, and these were not considered in any way inferior to the sporting events. In the end (1948 was the last Olympics to include such competitions) sport became the main focus, but the idea of a cultural side to the Games remained and is now gaining greater emphasis; nowhere more than at London 2012 where famous artists like Tracy Emin have already produced Olympic posters, and the Olympic Park has its own artist in residence (Neville Gabie) whose role is to encourage artist-led projects on the site, aided by the site work force and local communities.
Even the architecture of the site incorporates art. Along the fence of one of the buildings is a work by Carsten Nicolai which sees the Olympic rings transformed into a coloured image of a low frequency oscillation sound wave, and Monica Bonvicini has designed 9 metre tall letters forming the word ‘run’ for the handball arena. These act as mirrors in the daytime and at night turn into glowing shapes. Even the flower beds have a function as works of art in the form of the Fantasticology project which will see complex planting designs for wild flower areas. And what is more, over all of this stands Anish Kapoor’s Mittal Tower.
It all makes sense. Sport lends itself to artistic depiction (see the references below) but the Olympic Park has also incidentally provided a huge number of spaces, shapes and geometric planes of all kinds. Why not ornament them with works of art, given its wide popular appeal (and especially that of modern art) in the UK? Art isn’t necessarily a luxurious add-on to the main event; it should be embedded in our domestic and public lives. William Morris famously suggested that you should “have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” and he of course was born in Walthamstow, not that far from the Olympic Park at Stratford.
Australian Gallery of Sport. The Olympic collections at the Australian Gallery of Sport. Melbourne, Australia Australian Gallery of Sport and Olympic Museum, [2002?])
London reference collections shelfmark: YD.2010.a.5223
Wingfield, Mary Ann. Sport and the artist. Woodbridge: Antique Collectors' Club, 1988.
London reference collections shelfmark: YV.1989.b.399
Victoria and Albert Museum. Illustrations from the XIVth Olympiad Sport in Art Exhibition, London, 1948. Held at the Victoria and Albert Museum. London, 
London reference collections shelfmark: 7812.ee.20.