The Argentinian artist who celebrates the football faith and its believers

“The difference between me and contemporary kids is simple. What you learn playing for money in the suburban mud is not taught in the academies.”

In an age that is increasingly about numbers, statistics and social glory, is the art of football still important? It is essential for all of us, Juan Román Riquelme would answer, recalling the humble origins of his magical fútbol and introducing the work of his compatriot Martin Kazaniez. In the canvases and murals of this contemporary Argentine artist, football becomes a people’s song, where the most real and tangible figures of the entire soccer system become the protagonists of an imperfect, yet enchanting collective ritual. The religion of fútbol is handed down by its believers, their beers and irrationalities. The religion of fútbol is handed down by its lovers, by their noisy passion and silent deeds. And no place like the homeland of Diego Armando Maradona, the least profane of earthly gods, could have been the muse of this young artist.

Just days after the conclusion of the exhibition ‘Llenos de Todo’ at Galerie LJ in Paris, we caught up with and interviewed Gordopelota, understanding the value of football in his artistic philosophy and life.

What role did football and art play in your childhood?

“Playing fútbol and basketball was all I did most of the time. When I wasn’t in my neighborhood local club or at a random pitch or in the streets playing with friends, I loved playing fútbol videogames too. My parents were not into sports at all, but they encouraged me to practice a lot of it. What they were really into was art, as they both are artists now. We had a lot of art at home: books, comics, movies…. They took me to museums every time they could too. I drew a lot of goalkeepers when I was very young, but then I stopped drawing since I thought I was bad at it.”

When did you realize that you could merge these two universes?

“I started drawing again when I was 25. I met a friend who was a graffiti writer and I started doodling and doing graffiti too. There was no need to be good at it and I loved that, it was a matter of just doing it. I did this a lot for 2-3 years. After some time, I began to be more confident with materials, and I started creating and painting characters. I was still doing graffiti, but I used to replace my name and letters with special images. I was always a big fan of Florencio Molina Campos (a local folk painter who created a naive and caricaturesque world of gauchos) and I immediately knew I wanted to do something related to his work, but with amateur local fútbol world, which I thought it was an unexplored subject in Argentinian art.”

What were your reference points and idols in both fields? Is there a footballer who sums up the soul and DNA of Gordopelota?

“Artistically I have infinite references points, from more classic paintings, to music videos, movies and photographers. In terms of football, I can’t think of any player, because most of the fútbol related artwork I ever did was influenced by local folks playing amateur five a side. But since all my work is full of ‘Argentinity’, I could say Diego spirit is an omnipresent figure in all of it. Especially because he was a great myth or fable that explains a lot of our complex identity.”

The football star system doesn’t appear in your works. You portray the real football, made of beers, barrios, cigarettes and curvy bodies. What do you want to communicate through these subjects?

“I think there is too much advertising image around the football industry and star players. We get saturated of this content all the time. We don’t need art that looks like painted advertisements too. I used to think there was something to communicate with these images. I studied graphic design, so I have a background on having intentions on how to communicate with images. But after developing a good number of artworks, I started shifting from trying to communicate something with a specific image, to a more open and poetic approach to image making.”

‘Camisetas’, football jerseys, play a key role in your works. What are the factors that make you choose a specific jersey?

“Before graphic design I studied filmmaking for a year. I learned the concept of ‘deictic’: these elements merge the tangible world of reality and the abstract world of fantasy. Some small references and details can place you in a specific time and space, even if the narrative is completely fictional. I like to paint some of these like clothing, or a place, or a haircut, so it connects this fictional world of brushstrokes and paint with the world I experience every day in life.”

Your paintings are exhibited in museums all over the world, they were also in Paris. Your murals, on the other hand, populate various cityscapes and mystical places, such as La Bombonera in Buenos Aires. Do you prefer to show your art through canvases or murals?

“I showed in different cities around the world but actually not in museums that much, just a couple of them. Next year I’ll be part of a big show (fingers crossed). I slowly shifted from murals to studio work. I found this way a better way to create the work I wanted to do. I think La Bombonera was one of the last murals I did. I never ever in my life thought I would paint there. It was one of my favorite projects ever, even though I don´t like the result that much.”

Your artistic production also touches on other sports. Will you continue to focus on football in the future, or will you open your horizons more and more toward basketball, tennis, etc.?

“I did a big series that reflected the photos I accumulate in my phone. This were crops of images I found there, and since I still try to practice as many sports as I can, a lot of them were sports related. I’m not sure what will come later. Now I´m finishing a series of paintings that started when Argentina won the World Cup. It´s about big crowds in situations that could be seen as a celebration, but also as protest at the same time.”