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Capturing 2010 in simple strokes

Artist travels the Olympic circuit, sketching and painting events as they happen

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Spectators at the 2010 Olympic Games may have noticed that sandwiched betwixt the body-painted and cowbell-toting super fans there is a smaller, quieter type of fan.

Artist Marc Ahr has been flitting back and forth between Vancouver and Whistler for the past two weeks, attending an astounding number of events all in the name of art. You see, Ahr has carved out a unique little niche for himself: he draws and paints Olympic competitions as they happen, in real time.

This isn't Ahr's first trip to the Olympic rodeo. The 2010 Games are actually the 11th Olympics he has attended and attempted to capture with ink and paint. While he normally paints cityscapes from New York, San Francisco, Sydney, Saint Petersburg, Moscow and Tokyo, the Olympics have found a special place in his heart.

He got started with painting live in 1989 during the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"After that, I decided that it was more fun to be outside than in an office doing design or renovation or something," he said.

He quickly transitioned from the political and historical event of the fall of the wall to capturing the hope and heartbreak of sport, starting with the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, less than 1,000 kilometres away.

"I realized that you had to paint events, not to paint something that anybody can paint," Ahr explained.

Now, he creates original pieces on-site, sketching and painting athletes, spectators and colourful details from each venue in an attempt to capture the overall spirit of the Games. Then, he makes prints from the originals.

"The idea is not only to make the art, it's to share the art with people and do it fast, to paint it on something so they can have it before they leave! They say, 'Oh my gosh, I was here! I was at the hockey (game).'"

Each piece comes with a sense of instant gratification and personal memory, since the spectator has been at the same event and shared the same experience as the artist.

"The people, they are interested in buying something that they have shared," Ahr shrugged.

His Olympic project can be financially lucrative, though Ahr says that often depends on which country is hosting, how their athletes fare and whether their culture values art. He points out that in China, he sold only 90 to 100 prints, while in Torino, he sold a few thousand.

But in the end, he keeps coming back because it's simply fun.

"If I paint the Games it is because I love to play and you should never forget that it is a game and not work," he explained. "I hate work but love to play."

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