The Athlete Artist, a 41 Diamonds x Heritage Story by Carling Jackson
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The Athlete Artist, a 41 Diamonds x Heritage Story by Carling Jackson

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My name is Carling Jackson, and I am from Vancouver, Canada, also known as the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. I am 35 years old. My entire life is sport! I am known as “the athlete artist.”  

My full-time job is painting custom art pieces for athletes all over the world. The majority being footballers. I live about a block from the beach where I love playing beach football in the summer. I follow the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Canadian men’s and women’s national teams. 


My great-great-grandfather John Walter Berry actually helped found a city in Canada, the township of Fort Langley. There is a sculpture of him which is kinda cool/weird! My family is originally from Ireland and Australia, they emigrated to Canada in the mid-1800s. I grew up with friends from all over the world, from Angola, DRC, South Africa, Antigua, Brazil, India, and so on. 


For me, the beauty of Canada is in its diversity and unbridled acceptance of people from other places.


Our men’s and women’s national teams are prime examples of that. We have the world's first non-binary player on the women’s team and two former refugees on the men’s team. Diversity is our biggest strength. Canada is a pillar of global human rights and progressiveness, especially my city. I am very proud of this! I express my national identity in representing Canada as an artist at different sports events, from the World Cup in Qatar to painting live at different events globally. 


The Art Of Football

I express my support for my national team and country by painting them! I am going to be painting the first ever mural of the Canadian women’s national team in Vancouver, Canada. There has never been a mural created of any women’s team in all of Canada. I am also doing a custom piece of Kamal Miller. Our women’s side has been carrying our national team program for decades. Now the men have caught up and are killing it too! It also looks like I will be going to the Women’s World Cup with Team Canada and painting them during games!

I try to capture the passion, love, and ability of players through my art. I played at a very high level and this understanding helps me replicate the love and passion for the game on a canvas. Translating kinaesthetic football into the art of football. I want to honour Canadian players who have dedicated their lives to the beautiful game. 

Football is actually the reason I became an artist. In 2014 I got an opportunity to volunteer at the Street Child World Cup in Brazil. Ahead of the tournament, the captain of team Brazil,  Rodrigo Kelton, was tragically murdered by drug traffickers on his 14th birthday. I painted a portrait of Rodrigo and brought it to Brazil to honour the young footballer. This was my first ever oil painting. It was here that I discovered the power of art x football x social change and knew that I was put here to do this forever. I have not looked back.


Painting Atiba

I went to Canada’s first match in the Concacaf Gold Cup against Guadeloupe to do a live painting of Atiba Hutchinson with Concacaf. I feel so much pride watching Canada play. Also, as I know some of the players, there is a very personal connection! I want to see them succeed and do well. I love how diverse our teams are, because I also know how important representation is for youth to see themselves on the teams and know it is possible to reach the top.

Atiba is a legend in Canadian soccer. He recently retired, and I wanted to honour him and his beautiful career representing Canada. For two decades Atiba wore a Canada jersey, including at the Qatar World Cup. A true legend!



Losing Football As A Player

I started playing football at age four. I fell in love with the game and started to train at a professional type level at 12 years old. I ended up attending Canada’s first ever soccer prep school run by British Columbia (BC) and Canada Soccer at age 15. We had soccer for two hours every morning, trained by national team coaches, before we went to class. 

At 15, I also made the BC Team, the level right below the national team, and had my first national team camp call up that same year. This was one of the highlights of my career! 

At 17, I received a Division 1 scholarship to play in the States at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. But I tore my ACL a month before I left for the United States and had a few major injuries that ultimately ended my career at 22. I did transfer to an HBCU (historically all black college) to finish my degree and play one more year. 

Losing football as a player absolutely destroyed me. It drove me into a really deep depression for a while. I ended up going back to school to study sports psychology as it related to football and doing an internship under Rogier Friesen, the esteemed Olympic sports psychologist who was training with a few soccer teams. 


Football For All Peoples

I took photos all around Vancouver of people playing football, at BMO field during the Canada vs Guadeloupe game, and in BC Place stadium during the Hope and Health day for Indigenous youth. 

Terry Felix was the first ever Indigenous professional footballer in all of North America, playing for Vancouver Whitecaps, and the first Indigenous player on Canada men's team in 1983. Terry was born and raised in Sts’ailes First Nation. Musqueam First Nation, where his mom resides, asked me to paint him. I began a painting of him to honour his incredible career as an Indigenous soccer player for BC Place, the Whitecaps stadium where he played. It is incredibly important that when we tell the story of Canada and that our First Peoples are always included. 

I also photographed our first ever street soccer team “Sunset Beach FC” who practise on the beach near my house. The team was actually started by a national team photographer, Tagwa! How cool is this? He has built a street soccer community of 150 people who come from all over the lower mainland on Monday nights to play football on the court. Some people travel over an hour each way just to play. 

Football is internationally a game for everybody. It is the most popular sport in the world. For me, it was a way to connect to friends from all over the world. One in four Canadians today were not born in Canada, which usually means they came from a soccer nation. Growing up I had a lot of friends who were refugees who loved football, much like our national team, which has two refugees. I played with them daily. It was how we connected. Watch and play football. 

I think football is becoming more and more popular because we are becoming more and more diverse, and our men’s and women’s teams are doing so well. There is more opportunity in soccer than in any other sport in the world. 


Building The Future

I want to paint the world’s first ever World Cup Art Gallery, and I want to attend a World Cup as the team artist for Canada. I am also working on the first ever collectible sports print with my childhood idol, Ronaldinho!

I would like to see more football infrastructure, street soccer, and facilities. I am working to help build the first street soccer court in Vancouver. I would like to see more investment in Indigenous soccer and opportunities provided for marginalised youth who do not have the resources or access to play. I would love to see more football academies at the youth level and more investment in youth football!



Quickfire Heritage Questions

What are the words or phrases/sayings that anyone from your country will know? 

We have this tradition when anyone scores inside BC Place: the announcer says their name, fans say their last name. Then he goes, “THANK YOU!” And we all say, “YOU’RE WELCOME!” The most quintessential Canadian chant ever! 


What are the most distinctive landmarks in your country? 

For me? Our stadiums! BC Place, Rogers Arena.

But probably Stanley Park (the second best forest in the world). The Vancouver Art gallery. CN Tower in Toronto, Niagara Falls. Lake Louise, the Canadian Rockies. Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Banff National Park.


What is your country most famous for?

Probably hockey and maple syrup. 


What do you consider your most distinctive food dish?

Poutine is our national dish!


If you could say “these three things symbolise our country and our people”, what would that be?

Diversity, kindness, and community!