Renowned works by the Houston artist on athletes will be on display at the 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 2026 FIFA World Cup at NRG Stadium and local artist Betirri Bengtson is excited to be in action.

But before his own garden becomes the playing field for one of the most watched sporting events in the world, he will stamp his passport at least once more.

Throughout his decade-long career, Betirri has earned international acclaim for his groundbreaking concept and style depicting disembodied sports figures in motion, and in just a few weeks the creative widely known by his name will travel over 8,000 miles to host an exhibition to make selections of his latest work in Qatar. The 10-day trip is the third time he has presented his art in conjunction with the quadrennial tournament, having first funded an overseas venture to Brazil in 2014 and partnered with a gallery in Moscow four years later. (He also competed at the 2015 Women’s World Cup with an exhibition at BC Place in Vancouver.)

Twelve of his paintings that were in Russia have since been part of a world tour called Ball in Art. Although planned to culminate in Qatar this month, the large-scale exhibition, curated by the Kraft Pavlova Foundation, has been put on hold due to the war in Ukraine.

However, that hasn’t stopped Betirri from being in attendance to exhibit his work on the Mexihouse fansite and possibly even conduct a live painting session during the final, which will close the month-long celebration of the global and cultural phenomenon of football.

To gather support for its upcoming journey, Betirri launched the BRQ Collective last September. As well as offering different levels of membership that come with limited-edition merchandise and an insider’s look at the artist’s journey, the collective, backed by global marketplace Fleato, has hosted a series of events in the run-up to its departure, the next of which is on November 18th at Pitch 25 Beer Park.

Free and open to the public, Countdown to Qatar allows football enthusiasts to relive past World Cup moments in virtual reality and hear from an expert panel of panelists who will share their predictions for 2022 and discuss Houston as the future host city, and explore themes such as the intersection of sports, arts and technology. Joining Betirri in the conversation, moderated by Maria Vilma Duran, will be Brian Ching, former Houston Dynamo player; David Fletcher, managing director of Lone Star Sports and Entertainment; Chris Buckner, co-founder of Pokatok; Joey Sanchez, senior director for ecosystems at Ion; and Janis Burke, CEO of the Harris County Houston Sports Authority.

During Friday’s event, Betirri – who has served as the official artist of the Houston Lamborghini Festival since 2014 and has completed many large-scale murals across the city – will also announce his next venture, a collaboration with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department called “Gate Park .” The project, scheduled for completion by the 2026 World Cup, will convert seven blocks of the Columbia Tap Rail trail in East Downtown into an outdoor destination complete with art, food trucks, benches, fitness stations, mini soccer fields and more.

“Football is one of the few things that really connects people; it’s universal,” Betirri said over the whistle of a nearby train. His new East End studio, which opened last month in time for his 3rd annual Tour de Mural bike ride, occupies the first floor of a striking pink house adorned with a mural promoting mental health awareness and with whom he shares his fiancé, lawyer Maria Virginia Ivanez, and her two rescued Chinese crested dogs.

For his exhibition in Qatar, Betirri plans to take pieces from a number of ongoing series, including Football is Life. These colored pencil drawings, each depicting a fetus growing in a vintage 1900s-style pink ball, will sit alongside works such as “Green Sustainability,” his first foray into the world of NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, the patrons Certificates lend authenticity. He has since released a digital collection titled 21st Century Gods, which depicts football legends in his signature disembodied style, maintaining a timeless focus on the team, the jersey and the movement while carefully incorporating each player’s identifying traits .

“For many, sport shapes identity,” said Betirri, who aspired to be a star on the soccer field growing up in Puebla, Mexico. His childhood dream was dashed by a life-threatening asthma diagnosis, but after moving to Bayou City with his family as a high school student and then majoring in architecture and painting at the University of Houston, he found a way to combine his artistic talent and sporting passion in one.

Continuing to expand its influence as a professional artist, Betirri has recently entered the fashion industry and has released a line of jerseys that reflect the values ​​at the core of its business – kindness, empathy and honesty. Next, he hopes to experiment with sculpture and take his same disembodied concept into something more monumental, perhaps in time for the 2026 World Cup.

“My mission is to reflect the impact of sport, especially football, on our society through various visual creative possibilities,” 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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