International Blog – Michael Dickens
Roland Garros and modern art have enjoyed a long, steady and tasteful relationship. It’s a very French thing. In a sport where a player’s instinct and spontaneous movement creates beautiful art out of work during every rally – especially on a terre battue canvas – the annual French Open poster is seen as a colorful and fascinating part of the Roland Garros experience.
Each year since 1980, the grounds at Roland Garros in the 16th arrondissement of Paris have displayed bright and imaginative posters that truly embody the spirit and excitement of the French Open. After all, if tennis is seen as art – and why not? – then, its athletes are truly artists who have traded paint brushes for tennis rackets.
In an earlier era, Les Quatre Mousquetaires (Jacques Brugnon, Jean Borotra, Henri Cochet and René Lacoste) were prestigious French tennis players who dominated the sport in the second half of the 1920s and early ’30s and were known for their dashing grace and athleticism. They were artists who became national icons in France – their success in winning the 1927 Davis Cup against the United States helped lead to the building of the Roland Garros venue at Porte d’Auteuil – and the French Open men’s championship trophy was named the Coupe des Mousquetaires in honor of the quartet.
Today, one need only think of World No. 1 Rafael Nadal, the king of clay, whose Picasso-like artistry as he glides across Court Philippe Chatrier – brushing his racket against a tennis ball – is truly a bold and beautiful thing to admire. He’s won 10 French Open singles titles, most of any athlete – male or female – which has endeared him to the French and tennis fans worldwide.
Among the artists who have created French Open poster art since its inception are: Eduardo Arroyo, whose 1981 Pop Art image of Björn Borg’s hair captured a quintessential quality of 1980s tennis; Joan Miró, one the most prominent influences on the development of both Surrealism and 20th-century art, who created the 1991 poster; documentary filmmaker and painter Jean-Michel Meurice, whose 1996 poster was inspired by the red clay and white lines of the Roland Garros courts; jazz drummer and composer Daniel Humair, who conveyed a musical rhythm to capture the pulse of the French Open in his 2004 poster; and Du Zhenjun, who in 2015 became the first Chinese artist selected to design a French Open poster. His training in traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy is reflected in his work.
For this year’s French Open, Paris-born Fabienne Verdier was commissioned to create the poster for the 2018 tournament, which begins Sunday. Born in 1962, Verdier is the fourth woman selected to design the official Roland Garros poster, following in the footsteps of Jane Hammond (2003), Kate Shepherd (2007) and Nalini Malani (2010). She’s also the first French artist, too.
“For me, Roland Garros evokes those first warm days that herald the arrival of summer in Paris, when the intense light of May and June makes the ochre day sparkle,” said Verdier, in an interview recently posted on French Open website rolandgarros.com. “As the sun races across the sky, the courts turn from amber to tobacco, from saffron to sepia, from ochre to red, from sienna to brown. During every rally, the balls collect this multicolored dust and, like comets, leave enchanting lines of energy in their wake.”
In creating the 2018 French Open poster, Verdier chose to focus on the simple bounce of a tennis ball. In a split-second moment, she perfectly captures “that moment of truth in which the ball, after hitting the clay, sets off on one of many possible trajectories. The ball’s movement gives off incredible energy.”
Verdier describes her abstract impression this way: “I tried to portray the lightning speed of the player’s movements. The energy that they transmit to the ball in a movement full of spontaneity, vitality, power, precision and slide. And I imagined one of those unexpected bounces that take the opponent by surprise and force them, in the following rally, to surpass themselves once again in order to get one step closer to victory in Paris.”