Painting the Olympics -- with a dash of vodka

February 18, 2018 - 19:00

The opening ceremony for the Pyeongchang Olympics was so cold that artist Marc Ahr used vodka to stop his paint freezing and when his brush threatened to turn to ice he popped it in his mouth.

Winter Olympics opening ceremony had temperature in minus and artists struggled with their art. - AFP Photo
Viet Nam News

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The opening ceremony for the Pyeongchang Olympics was so cold that artist Marc Ahr used vodka to stop his paint freezing and when his brush threatened to turn to ice he popped it in his mouth.

The ongoing Games in South Korea are the 55-year-old’s 15th Olympics in a row, a sequence stretching back to the Winter Games in Albertville, in his native France, in 1992.

He has painted opening ceremonies and events at every Olympics since, but even for Ahr, the biting sub-zero temperatures at the curtainraiser on February 9 were something new.

"It was minus something, so I even bring some -- shh -- some vodka inside to put in the water, and I could do a little bit of colouring," Ahr said, peering conspiratorially about him should anyone hear that he sneaked alcohol into the opening ceremony.

"I put the vodka in a small bottle and put the vodka in my water colours so it doesn’t freeze.

"It’s not the same effect (as with water), but it’s nice, it gives it a marble effect.

"And my brush -- it’s not very good for my health -- I put it inside my jacket (under his armpit) or in my mouth... otherwise it’s ice."

The result of his endeavours -- he expects to finish one water-colour painting a day over the fortnight of the Olympics -- will be made into prints and sold.

He keeps the originals to add to the large body of work that he has built up over the last three decades. He hopes that one day they will all go on show in a gallery.


Ahr professes that, whether it is the Summer or Winter Olympics, he has only limited interest in the sports themselves and often has little idea about who is winning.

So why does he do it?

"I like the energy, I like to meet people, I like the fantasy, I cannot tell you that I am crazy about sport," he told AFP in Pyeongchang, his nearly finished painting of short-track skating laid out in front of him.

"I don’t want the Olympics to be a money thing, I want them to be fun, to be drawing, to meet people. And if money comes, it comes," he said, as people frequently look over his shoulder to see what he is doing.

Ahr hails from Cannes, in southern France, and started out copying Impressionist paintings, before going to art school in Paris.

He now lives in St Petersburg, Russia and describes himself as a "perfectionist artist".

The self-described arist, furniture designer and interior decorator attempts to finish his paintings while he is at the given Olympic event. He often meets people while doing so -- and offering to sell them a painting, drawing them into the picture if they wish.

According to Ahr, the parents of one United States ski jumper saw what he was doing and asked for a painting, and he says that he has some famous fans.

"The last Olympic president (Jacques Rogge), he has all my paintings from all the Games," said Ahr.

"The king of Sweden, he has the final of the hockey of Lillehammer (1994) and the final of hockey in Turin (2006) because I painted that."

Bringing something new

But the end may be in sight.

Ahr says he will carry on his labour of love until Paris 2024, but says that could be a fitting finale because it is in his homeland.

Having scrutinised every Games since 1992, Ahr is in a better position than most to judge how the Olympics have morphed over the years.

"It was much smaller, much more cosy (in 1992) and much more friendly," said Ahr, who pointedly excludes any of advertising from his paintings and is passionate also about the environment.

"I’m a bit sometimes disappointed when I go to the Olympic park and I see this commercial thing," he said.

"But then each person that I meet -- either in the train, the bus, in this cafe -- they’re interested.

"And the kids, when they look at my drawings, I feel that I’m bringing something that nobody is bringing."  — AFP