Houston artist’s renowned work on sports personalities to be exhibited at FIFA World Cup in Qatar



Houston artist Betirri Bengtson in front of one of his works

Photo: Pana Vasquez

Preparations are already underway for the FIFA World Cup to come to the NRG Stadium in 2026, and local artist Betirri Bengtson is eager to get in on the action.

Yet before his own backyard becomes a ground for one of the world’s most-watched sporting events, he’ll add at least one more stamp to his passport.

Throughout his decade-long career, Betirri has achieved international acclaim for his pioneering concept and style, depicting bodyless sports figures in motion, and in just a few short weeks the designer, widely known by his mononym, will travel more than 8,000 miles to exhibit a selection of his latest work in Qatar. The 10-day trip will mark the third time he has showcased his art in conjunction with the quadrennial tournament, having first funded an overseas venture in Brazil in 2014 and then partnered with a gallery in Moscow four years later. (He also took part in the 2015 Women’s World Cup with a display inside Vancouver’s BC Place.)

Twelve of his paintings that were in Russia have since been part of a world tour, entitled “Ball in Art”. Although it was supposed to culminate this month in Qatar, the large-scale exhibition, organized by the Kraft-Pavlova Foundation, was interrupted due to the war in Ukraine.

That, however, hasn’t deterred Betirri from showing up to exhibit his work on the Mexihouse fan site and possibly even perform a live painting session during the final match, which will conclude the month-long celebration. of the global and cultural phenomenon that is Football.

To garner support for their upcoming trip, Betirri launched the BRQ Collective last September. In addition to offering varying levels of membership that come with limited-edition merchandise and an insider’s view of the artist’s journey, the collective, powered by global marketplace Fleato, has hosted a series of events leading to his departure, the next of which will take place at Pitch 25 Beer Park on November 18.

Free and open to the public, “Countdown to Qatar” will allow football fans to experience previous World Cup moments in virtual reality as well as hear from an expert team of panelists, who will share their 2022 predictions, discuss Houston as the future host city, and explore topics such as the intersection of sports, art, and technology. Joining Betirri in the conversation, moderated by Maria Vilma Duran, will be former Houston Dynamo player Brian Ching; David Fletcher, CEO of Lone Star Sports and Entertainment; Chris Buckner, co-founder of Pokatok; Joey Sanchez, Senior Director of Ecosystems at Ion; and Janis Burke, CEO of the Harris County Houston Sports Authority.

At Friday’s event, Betirri — who has been the official artist for the Houston Lamborghini Festival since 2014 and has done numerous large-scale murals around the city — will also announce his next venture, a collaboration with the Department of Parks and of Houston Recreation titled “Aim Park.” Due to be completed by the 2026 World Cup, the project, for which Betirri has already begun working with landscape architects, will transform seven blocks of the Columbia Tap Rail-Trail in East Downtown into an outdoor destination with art, food trucks, benches, fitness stations, miniature soccer fields and more.

“Football is one of the few things that really unites people; it’s universal,” Betirri said over the whistle of a nearby train. His new studio in the East End, which opened last month in time for his 3rd annual Tour de Mural bike ride, is located on the first floor of an eye-catching pink house, adorned with a mural that promotes awareness of sanity, which he shares with his fiancée, lawyer Maria Virginia Ivañez, and their two rescued Chinese crested dogs.

For its exhibition in Qatar, Betirri plans to take pieces from a few ongoing series, one being ‘Football is Life’. These colored pencil drawings, each of a growing fetus inside a vintage 1900s-style pink ball, will sit alongside works like “Green Sustainability,” his first dive into the world of NFTs, or tokens not fungible that grant certificates to clients. of authenticity. He has since released a digital collection, titled “21st Century Gods”, which showcases footballing legends in his signature bodyless style, maintaining a timeless focus on team, shirt and movement while carefully incorporating the identification characteristics of each player.

“For many, sport shapes identity,” said Betirri, who aspired to be a star on the soccer field while growing up in Puebla, Mexico. His childhood dream was derailed by a diagnosis of life-threatening asthma, but after moving to Bayou Town with his family as a high school student and then taking a double major in architecture and painting at the ‘University of Houston, he discovered a way to combine his artistic work. talent and athletic passion in one company.

Betirri continues to expand his impact as a professional entertainer, recently entering fashion and launching a line of swimwear that showcases the values ​​at the core of his business – kindness, empathy and honesty. Next, he hopes to experiment with sculpture, transposing his same bodiless concept into something more monumental, perhaps in time for the 2026 World Cup.

“My mission is to reflect the impact that sport, especially football, has on our society through different creative visual outlets,” he said. “Sport keeps us motivated, inspired and alive; they are full of emotions, just like art.

Lawrence Elizabeth Knox is a Houston-based writer.

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