When he came to Houston from Mexico almost 17 years ago, Betirri Bengtson brought his country's fervor for soccer with him and poured it into his artwork.
"In Mexico, we're born and we grow up with futbol everywhere. In the streets, in the parks," says Bengtson.
His eerie and surrealistic paintings depict soccer players from around the globe, sans limb or jersey logo. "There are no people, but you can see the movement, the motion of the players, the teams and the colors. The essence of the game."
Bengtson took these pieces with him to Rio De Janiero last month, displaying them for soccer fans who'd come to the city for the World Cup from around the world to see. Before that, a Brazilian soccer team had commissioned him, which is when he knew that he should start pursuing art for a living.
"I wake up start, start working, take a break to go eat and work out, I come back to work until I go to sleep again. So it's just a lot of sacrifices, a lot of things that you really miss. But then you start to see the results. I was able to do my dream, and it was worth it."
What He Does: "One thing that I see about art is that it is a profession. It's a nice profession, because you really enjoy it and it's very emotional, but you have to have marketing, sales, everything, financial advisors, everything in order to grow.
"You have your art. It's a product, it's a luxury for people, so you have to work. I mean you have to do marketing, you have to do sales, you have to network, and it is nice. You learn about what business is in a way. So it gets very complex."
What Inspires Him: "When I was little, I used to draw and paint. But then I started looking at different artists, like from the Renaissance, or Dutch artists. I really like the classical style, how it's realistic and the way [classical paintings] use contrast and lighting. I really like detail, so I kept experimenting with it.
"I didn't know when it was going to happen, it just happened. I think I was really lucky because fútbol is my other passion, just the joy of touching a ball and playing. You forget about everything else. And art does exactly the same thing. So now I'm combining them."
If Not This, Then What: "I went to school for architecture first, so I do architecture and I love it too. I hope that I can incorporate architecture in the future with these two passions. Because I think that it relates to art a lot. They have a lot in common, but it requires more things. It is something structural, functional."
If Not Here, Then Where: "I once studied abroad in Italy in 2005. So I fell in love with that country. I hope to have a studio there in the future. I really love the culture, food, architecture, art, everything."
But Houston's culture has allowed Bengtson to flourish as an artist. "I didn't feel the pressure I would have if I were in New York living as an artist. Here you have more opportunities, more freedom to do what you want. I think Houston has become a great city. There are people from everywhere; it's very diverse. And I think art and fútbol are the same way. You find people who love art and fútbol everywhere, which is why I really like Houston."
What's Next: "I want to evolve a little bit. I have a few ideas of making [my paintings] even less content-based and into something that would still look surrealistic but a little bit more modern, playing with lighting and contrast more.
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"My goal is to do this every World Cup, at least. And between every World Cup there are other tournaments like the Euro Cup [and the] Copa América, which is every two years.
"So I want to be a part of all of that and...be a part of the culture and history of fútbol with my paintings."
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