Introducing the Modern Day Renaissance Man: The Athlete-Artist

Why you should care

Because the proof is in the pics. 

What on earth could a professional baseball player and an Arctic nomad have in common? Well, art, of course. Also, sports!

Matt Szczur, best known as a Chicago Cubs outfielder, spends his mornings at the gym and afternoons in the batting cage. To unwind, the utility man uses his creative side, by painting and carving. Art can help alleviate the pressure of performing on the big stage, J.J. Redick tells OZY. “We’re expected to entertain every night,” says the Los Angeles Clippers shooting guard, who says that his own part-time podcasting career provides a comforting sanity. As Redick tells it, professional athletes entertain an “inherent level of anxiety.” But art is not just about stress relief. Arctic adventurer Erik Boomer’s art is born out of a desire to capture and chronicle adrenaline-pumping adventures. For the professional white-water kayaker, wind skier and photographer, beauty carries an inherent thrill.

From the baseball diamond and the Great North, these two professional athletes are also gifted in the art of expression.

Matt Szczur, Chicago Cubs outfielder, painter, woodworker: @superszcz4

A consonant-clustered surname was enough to get Szczur (pronounced “Caesar”) noticed while he was growing up in New Jersey. Soon, the young athlete was dominating on both the diamond and the football field. At home, nights were spent shadowing his father, Mark, to learn drawing, sketching and carving.

Szczur became a two-sport star at Villanova University (we weren’t kidding about the versatility!), earning All-America honors as a running back and a center fielder. This year, the 27-year-old is fighting for at bats on a deep Cubs roster. He could be traded to a team where his playing time would increase, but either way, he’ll keep selling his art — mainly woodworks and sports portraits — for charity. Two of Szczur’s paintings raised more than $1,000 for the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation this winter. His portrait of All-Star teammates Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant celebrating the final out of the 2016 World Series should bring in a much heftier haul at the Cubs’ Bricks and Ivy Ball later this month.

Erik Boomer, expedition kayaker, kite skier, Arctic adventurer, photographer: @eboomer

Unlike Szczur, Boomer earns the majority of his living from his art: commercial and adventure photography for magazines like Outside and National Geographic. Still, it’s his career as a champion white-water kayaker that has taken him around the globe in constant pursuit of radical enlightenment.

Boomer’s dad was a rafter and a fisherman in Idaho, but raft life proved too slow for young Erik — by age 10, he’d saved enough money from mowing lawns to purchase a beat-up kayak and teach himself how to ride. “As soon as I learned to row, I would borrow my parents’ car and head to the river,” Boomer tells OZY. 

Kayaking serves as Boomer’s backbone in adventure. He has traveled all over the world, racking up more than 40 first descents, from Mexico and British Columbia to Kyrgyzstan and the Arctic. Nicknamed “the Honey Badger of Kayaking” because of his confidence in attacking dangerous river descents, Boomer is unafraid of a challenge. In 2011, he and explorer Jon Turk became the first pair to circumnavigate Canada’s Ellesmere Island — the world’s 10th-largest island west of northern Greenland, in the Arctic. 

View this post on Instagram

One of my favorite moments from a 4 month long dogsledding trip around Baffin Island with @sarahmcnairlandry was meeting 94 year old Qappik Attagutsiak to this day she lived in this arctic #tinyhome during months of cold and darkness her only source of heat and cooking was this simple seal oil Qulliq. Qappiq remembers a few times growing up and travelling long distance with dog team on these trips the hunted and gathered depending totally on what they catch to eat and building igloo structures along the way. Twice she said they ran out of snow and had to stay and wait several months for winter to come before they continue their way home. She had the most awesome energy and continued to sew waterproof boots and hunting mitts better than anyone else. #realwomen #voked #nunagram #baffin #traditional #arctic #elder #gopro #goproshotoftheday

A post shared by Erik Boomer (@eboomer) on

Now, Boomer is back exploring the Great North with his girlfriend, Sarah McNair-Landry, an adventurer, photographer and documentarian. The pair are currently in the midst of their second dogsledding and kayaking expedition across the Arctic. Unsurprisingly, their encounters with the Inuit communities have inspired Boomer’s favorite works of late.

“I’ve been doing these long, gnarly treks for five or six years now,” Boomer tells OZY. “It’s hard living up here, but the relationships we’ve built and the respect we’ve earned have led to my most memorable portraits.”

OZYThe New + the Next

Cutting-edge trends, rising stars and big ideas.