"Let me tell you something you already know. You're not the new Senna. You are no superhero. And you aren't this logo either. There's only one person behind the wheel of your life, who determines who you are. And that is your true superpower."
I gave Max his portrait and we raced a kart heat against each other. I wrote a column about it for F1 blog TJ13:
TUESDAY - I receive a confirmation that I am one of the 150 attendees at a 90 minute long interview with Max en Jos Verstappen this Friday. I mail the organization to ask if they are interested in using my paintings of Formula 1 drivers, heroes Max will be competing against. They bounce the idea back at me with a twist: can I bring a portrait of Max? I say I'll take it with me on Friday. This painting however does not exist.
"The great support and following of skillful athletes creates high expectations and pressure as to how they use their skill and power. As we learned from Spider-Man, there's a strong positive correlation between power and responsibility. Sometimes it even seems that athletes, or other celebritites, are given a smothering responsibility over other people's happiness, in return for their support. Do we feel that our acknowledgement over time should turn into a reciprocal connection? Are we like the Elliot investment group, demanding returns on our contribution from a suffocating Argentina?"
WEDNESDAY - I think of a general story and composition and determine the proportions of the canvas. I go to the local art store and get a 100 x 80 canvas so I can make a large and powerful piece. To display the finished artwork I buy my first painter's easel and it makes me feel very artsy.
"Sometimes it seems that we artificially inflate stardom so that every bit of news or a glimpse of our protagonists acquires more value. Are we involved in a global social Ponzi-scheme, a supernova that shines brightest just before the inevitable collapse?"
THURSDAY - I'm still figuring out the complete story and the composition. When this is done I prepare myself for the upcoming effort: I go outside, sit on a bench and stare at the water for 30 minutes. Very artsy indeed. It's 20:00 when my pencil hits the canvas for the first time. The delivery is in less than 19 hours. I work on the painting in stints that are determined by my GoPro battery life to document the process. Go to sleep around 04:00.
"Maybe it's ironic that we can call one person a star, yet if we all beam our rays together, it is us that create the brightest light. An all-shrivelling heat. Yet we neglect our own responsibility, rather we choose to use all the media at our disposal, creating a focal point that becomes a burning burden for whoever we have selected."
FRIDAY - I wake up and take the unfinished painting and materials to my brother's house in Utrecht. The meeting is also in Utrecht: I now have three more hours to finish the portrait. At 14:30 we go to the kart centre where the interview is held. Jos is delayed so the interview is with Max alone. He is very relaxed, calm and funny in his answers and stories. At the end of the interview I am invited to the stage, where the portrait has been shrewdly hidden behind a banner all afternoon. I introduce myself and I ask Max to help me unveil the painting. I tell a short background narrative of the portrait:
"Lately we've been hearing that Formula 1 drivers are no longer heroes. The circuits are too easy, the driving is too easy and they receive too much coaching. You are even used as an example that F1 has gotten too easy because you'll be racing F1 at the age of 17. I see things differently: someone who drives Formula 1 cars at 17, isn't that what a superhero is?
As is the case with superheroes, they have great responsibilities, are under a lot of pressure, and live their life in the spotlight. The spotlight makes that the heroes belong to everybody, yet they are very elusive. And when things are elusive, when people can't really grasp something, they create stories. Metaphors are created: an artist portrays you as a superhero, and parallels are drawn: you're supposed to be the new Senna. Let me tell you something you already know. You're not the new Senna. You are no superhero. And you aren't this logo either. There's only one person behind the wheel of your life, who determines who you are. And that is your true superpower."
It is a nice experience to meet Max and to hand him a portrait, and afterwards we will head to the kart track where Max will race Jos. Then the lady from the organization approaches me and asks me if I know how to kart. Apparently Jos is still delayed, so I'm asked to race Max instead. I have not driven a kart for years, but sure, I know how to drive!
I follow Max to the room with the protective gear where we wait for 10 minutes and have a chat. After that it is time to bring it on, and Max brings it on. Although fuel levels are unknown, let's just say I don't get lapped and I almost hit 107%. It is great fun.
"It's all the more understandable that our heroes develop shields that protect them against the spotlight. A consequence of course is that the public invents more creative and invasive tactics to get what they so insatiably crave. And what is it you want? What do you desire?
It raises more questions than answers, this balancing act between admiration and worship. What do we get out of this fanboyism, why are we so invested? Do we fear our own power and potential so much, that we don't dare to inflate and possibly burst our own bubble? Do we instead rely on our heroes to give us the feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment? Is that Formula 1? Is that me?"
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