The Olympic champion excelling in the art world
Josephine Henning: athlete and artist
She won Olympic gold with Germany’s women in 2016
Henning has devoted herself to art since hanging up her boots in 2018
One common dictionary definition of ‘Art’ is “the process of creative design using a wide range of materials or by means of language or sounds to engage with nature and the world”.
But what does this have to do with football? In both cases, the final product is the result of a creative process. While Pablo Picasso produced paintings, sketches, illustrations, collages, sculptures and ceramics, Pele’s creativity culminated in goals. And it certainly seems as though artists are at work when you watch some of today’s biggest footballing talents in action.
Josephine Henning is one of these virtuosos and living proof of how well the two disciplines of football and art can blend together. The former Germany defender enjoyed numerous successes during her playing career, amassing four UEFA Women’s Champions League titles, four Women’s Bundesliga trophies and a DFB Cup from 2013. As if that were not enough, she is also the only player to have lifted the European Cup with three different clubs – Potsdam, Wolfsburg and Olympique Lyon.
Henning also knew how to impress for her country, collecting Olympic gold at Rio 2016 and winning the UEFA Women’s EURO in 2013. Yet this chapter drew to a close when she retired from professional football in July 2018 at the age of 28.
"Sport will always be a huge part of my life, and I’m so excited to see in which direction my path will take me," said Henning on her Instagram account. "Thank you so much for all the lovely experiences and adventures which I was lucky enough to experience with you all. What an amazing time!"
The next stop on her journey soon became clear, as the Mainz native hung up her football boots to dedicate herself fully to the visual arts.
"I’ve always been both an artist and an athlete," the now 30-year-old said on the German Football Association (DFB)’s website. Henning unveiled her artwork at a preview in Trier in October 2018. Her exhibition was named 21STORIES and consisted of 20 paintings and an installation.
"People play a big role in my paintings, and I came up with many of the designs during my career as a footballer. Although this meant that most of the images were created in Lyon, Paris and London, only one painting is actually devoted to this subject."
Art has always played an important role in Henning’s life. "After school, after kindergarten – we painted everywhere," she explained.
"My mum laid a huge sheet on the floor and the whole family would paint a picture. That was just normal for us," added the former Arsenal defender, who studied graphic and interior design during her playing career, in an interview with German broadcaster SWR2.
Nevertheless, football initially took centre stage. "My dad played football and regularly played with his friends, who were all 30 to 35 years old," Henning recalled.
"As a little girl, I used to run about between them on the pitch and play with them. Then one day he said: 'You should start looking for a club. We’ll have a look and see if there is one.' Luckily there was a women’s team in our neighbourhood," the four-time UEFA Women’s Champions League winner told FIFA.com.
The experiences Henning had during her playing career may well have helped her to successfully make the transition from pitch to canvas and establish herself as an artist.
Football taught her about "passion and the ability to perform well at something you are fully committed to, preparation and how to take things seriously, but also the importance of staying relaxed. I never had a good game if I was too doggedly determined. Similarly, I’ll never get my creative juices flowing if I want to design something with too specific an idea about how it should look."
After all, creativity cannot simply be turned on and off at the flick of a switch, as many strikers in the midst of a goal drought know only too well. It seems that art and football have more in common than some might have imagined.