UAE: Meet the marathoner turning streets into GPS-inspired art

There’s art - and then there’s running art. Lenny Maughan tells us why he uses cities as his canvas.



by

Sherouk Zakaria

Published: Wed 23 Mar 2022, 6:16 PM

Last updated: Thu 24 Mar 2022, 1:47 PM

Lenny Maughan is an American marathoner. He's also a running artist. His speciality? Turning jogging routes into stunning masterpieces.

Since March 2015, the California-based runner has been using the streets of San Francisco as his canvas, creating one artwork every month by tracking his route on the fitness app Strava.

Earlier this month, he even brought his unique art form to the UAE — creating works of art using the GPS. He did this in five different locations across the UAE as part of a collaboration with ‘UAE Innovates’.

This digital artwork of a camel was created over 7km of Ras Al Khaimah desert.

“I think of a design -- something unexpected, quirky, fun, timeless, and understood globally. I sketch it out on the street grid of a map, then I carefully run it with GPS tracking,” Maughan told Khaleej Times.

While the camel piece covered the longest distance in the UAE, taking about one hour to finish, Maughan’s shapes on San Francisco roads sometimes require over 20 hours to complete.

This artwork of a spider web, for instance, was created after his longest run, spanning over 119 miles (191 kms) in 22 hours.

Maughan has created 84 mind-blowing works since he started his journey as a running artist. His earlier works comprised hand gestures and simple shapes.

Where it all began

His first GPS drawing was the Vulcan hand gesture from Star Trek, inspired by the 2015 death of Leonard Nimoy who played Spock.

“It was a “proof of concept” test. It worked, and I’ve done one piece per month ever since,” said Maughan.

Over the years, he moved to create more complex portraits and animal drawings. This brings his progress as an artist and runner to the fore.

His portrait of the renowned Mexican artist Frida Kahlo - which was created after a 31-mile run (50 kms), over six hours and 25 minutes - took Reddit and Western media by storm in 2019.

One of his recent masterpieces is that of a tiger borne out of a 153km run that lasted 21 hours and 26 minutes.

The original artwork inspired viewers to experience streets differently.

The planning process

Planning and executing the masterpieces takes stamina and mental effort.

Maughan likened the rigorous planning, which can take as long as the run itself, to making shapes with clouds. The artwork, he said, inspires the route. Here, he explains his process:

"The design is always the challenge," he added. What's more, the work has to be 100% original, and revealed only when complete.

Maughan noted that he goes through many drafts before he reaches a ‘final’.

The complexity and accuracy of his process can be seen in this artwork of a clock, which he completed after nearly 13 hours.

Design at the fore

Although Maughan trains for year-round marathons, speed and running performance take a back seat when working on a new design.

“It's the designs I create that I'm most proud of, not the run itself.”

Some of the longer-by-mile runs - more than about 30 miles - are two or more-day affairs. “I'll stop and pause at a certain point, go home, shower, eat, and sleep, and return to that same spot the next day and resume the run.

For him, the artwork is “just a personal creative challenge for me. No message intended. It’s art. The viewer finds their own message in it - or not.”

Here are some other images capturing the genius of Maughan. Featured in the video are a portrait of David Bowie and drawings of a cat, a bear, and a flamingo.


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