How Visual Art Became a Hobby for Andy Murray and the Professional Tennis Community

Andy Murray with Maggi Hambling and her portrait of Murray, which hung in the National Portrait Gallery in 2020 – Shutterstock/David Parry

What do Britain’s leading tennis players talk about as they wait for their turn on the court? The answer may surprise you, because it usually doesn’t involve forehands and backhands.

All sorts of tangential issues emerge from the recent film Challengers to the pace of the greens at Wentworth. But there is one clique with a very specific interest.

If you ever walked into the players’ lounge and saw Andy Murray and Cameron Norrie with Norrie’s former coach James Trotman, you can safely assume they were discussing something highbrow, like the brushwork in Maggi Hambling’s latest semi-abstract canvas.

Yes, an art appreciation society has sprung up behind the walls of the Lawn Tennis Association headquarters in Roehampton. The core members consist of Trotman, who is now focused on coaching new British No. 1 Jack Draper, and Murray and Norrie, while Murray’s former coach Jamie Delgado and Davis Cup captain Leon Smith hang out on the sidelines.

Draper himself, however, is unconvinced. “I don’t know what they see in it,” the 22-year-old told me in November. “Every time I look over Trots’ shoulder, he’s staring at something that looks like it was made by a six-year-old, and he’s splattering paint around randomly.”

Professional athletes aren’t usually considered the most refined group of people. But these six enthusiasts break the mold… and then rearrange it into an intriguing sculpture.

To judge for yourself, visit Trotman’s Instagram page. The images are almost always abstract paintings, and he’s diligent about captioning them. One post, from June 8, is labeled “Paule Vezelay, Eight Curved Forms and Two Circles, Oil on Canvas, 1946.”

Norrie’s taste also tends towards abstraction. Speaking to reporters in January, he named both Hambling – the Suffolk-based painter and sculptor mentioned above – and Damien Hirst as his favorite artists.

“Damien Hirst is probably my most collected artist,” Norrie explained. “I have a few originals and a few prints. But I also like Hambling. Andy and I have spoken about her a few times and yeah, I don’t really know a lot about her but I’m still learning and it’s an interesting thing.

“I started collecting a few years ago,” Norrie added, “and I always asked Trots [Trotman] his opinion on a few things. He’s pretty good at it and he’s got a really good eye. My girlfriend [Louise] also went to art school and she really likes it.

“I also always like to visit a few museums here and there. So yeah, it’s quite addictive.”

When asked if his interest is primarily for pleasure or investment purposes, Norrie replied: “A bit of both. First of all, you have to enjoy what you buy. But I have to leave some space for my girlfriend to make some art and hang some on the wall.”

With his interest in provocative contemporary artists, Norrie clearly belongs to Trotman’s cultural disciples. “We recently had the day off in New York and Cam and I went to the Met Museum,” Trotman explained. “It’s something different.

“He has his own taste and his own eye,” Trotman added. “It’s a luxury, of course, but when you can live around things that you really appreciate and enjoy, it’s nice.

“Cam said he was recently in New Zealand and there was an open day for artists and he went to have a look and saw a piece he really liked and bought it. I asked him to forward it because we [Trotman and Draper] just practiced with him.”

Murray’s curiosity was piqued in a different way. He was introduced to Hambling five or six years ago by a mutual friend who knew of her deep passion for tennis. The connections in this story work both ways, as Hambling once took part in a charity exhibition at the Royal Albert Hall. According to a profile published by The economist in 2020, she “reciprocated a serving of Pat Cash with a fag wedged between her lips.”

In that same profile, Hambling explained: “He’s very funny, very intelligent and very genuinely shy. He came to the studio and asked me all these questions for about an hour and a half that really made me think.

The unlikely relationship between Hambling – a chain smoker whose favorite drink is whiskey or Special Brew – and the famous ascetic Murray led to a commission from the National Portrait Gallery. In 2019, Murray sat in front of her. Or rather, he performed serves and groundstrokes in her studio while wearing his Wimbledon whites.

The two sides recall the experience very differently. For Murray it was “difficult, it was a physical morning… I was there for at least three to four hours”. For Hambling it was “actually a very short time. He says 10 minutes, I say less”. She also said The economist that he was a terrible subject: “His whole thing is about movement, and I asked him to stand still.” But the result is delightful, creating a sense of movement that a photograph could never match.

Andy Murray stands next to the painting of himself by artist Maggi HamblingAndy Murray stands next to artist Maggi Hambling's painting of himself

Murray with Hambling’s painting of him in the National Portrait Gallery in London – AELTC/Thomas Lovelock

Murray is a man who is constantly asking questions. Hambling finds this difficult to deal with, explaining that “it’s fatal when I think”. But Murray is also one of those people who likes to take things apart and look at them from every angle, as if the world were a giant Rubik’s Cube.

Perhaps his great interest in the art world should not surprise us. After all, he lives with an artist: wife Kim, who paints portraits of pets. He once even experimented with making his own work – although it didn’t go so well.

“It’s like most things,” he said The guards art correspondent at the unveiling of the Hambling portrait. “You think, ‘I could do that’ or ‘that’s not difficult’. My wife was out that night, I was alone in the house. She came back from dinner and said, ‘What on earth have you done?’ I ended up with paint all over the ceiling and the whole floor. It was horrible.”

For Trotman, who developed his artistic interests as a 25-year-old tennis vagabond, there are certain parallels between art and sports. However, he admits that not everyone in the locker room is as open-minded as his younger self, who spent many hours visiting museums and galleries between tournaments or coaching appointments.

“The other boys always laughed at me,” Trotman said Telegraph Sports. “Because abstract art was a big part of me, and they looked at it and said, ‘Well look, I could do that. I don’t understand it. It’s bullshit.’

“That’s the typical mentality. But then I would show them the early work of the artists before they moved to abstraction and how good they actually are. And it’s quite fascinating because it’s more about their journey in pushing their boundaries. It’s about the question ‘How can I challenge myself?’ – just like tennis players or other professions. And that’s why a lot of them turned to abstract art: that search for something different, and something a little more innovative.”

Trotman says he keeps at least 100 pieces in his home and garage. A few rooms have been converted into mini galleries and sometimes he has to sell work to make room for his latest purchases. “Everything has a value, and you can’t ignore it,” he says. “But I always buy with a view to what I want to live with.

“Jack isn’t one of us yet, he’s not here,” Trotman added. “But Andy loves his art. Kam enjoys it. And sometimes I think it’s just an escape. You have your work and your tennis, which is so intense, takes up so much of your time. And then there’s family and the commitment there. The only thing that’s mine is my art. So when I have a free moment I research it and go to shows and try to buy bits and pieces at auction.

“The tournaments themselves are so busy, but when people are training at the National Tennis Center or working on the grass, we get a little more time together. That’s another topic of conversation. We send WhatsApp images and talk about artists. With Instagram it’s It’s so easy to follow now. It’s such a visual picture, right?” He pauses and then grins. “But yeah, I definitely got a few sarcastic comments back in the day.”

Leave a Comment