The Houston Loves Teachers campaign has enlisted Betirri Bengston, renowned Houston artist, to design a mural–with the help of students at Eisenhower Ninth Grade School (Ike 9) in Aldine ISD–to commemorate Houston hosting the title game in January. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we asked Betirri more about his Hispanic culture and artistic journey.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your artistic journey and background?
I was born in Puebla, Mexico, in 1982 and migrated to the United States in 1997. My educational background includes a B.A. in Architecture in 2007 and a B.A. in Fine Arts in 2009, both from the University of Houston. I have had a deep passion for futbol since I was a child. I grew up watching and playing this sport and my dream was to become a professional footballer. Futbol is the only major sport and has become part of our heritage. Just like me, thousands of kids have a dream of becoming a professional footballer. I have suffered from asthma since an early age, which didn’t let me pursue this dream; however, a series of paintings depicting futboll in a surrealistic manner, allowed me to stay close to this sport. These paintings became the foundation of my career and eventually my signature body of work, which allowed me to sustain and pursue a professional artistic practice, travel, and exhibit in the last three World Cups.
How does your Hispanic heritage play a role in your artistic expression and the themes you explore in your work?
Being born in Mexico, playing futbol is one of the most common activities or sports played since you are a child. Futboll is a big part of our culture in different ways. We identify with different club teams, and it is also a way of belonging to something greater such as when the National team plays at any international competition. Wearing your team’s colors is a way to bond and create instant friendships with other people. For me, this is the essence of the sport: the representation of a unique color palette in a wearable uniform to identify, create teams and try to win in either a 30-minute recreational game or an international 90-minute game. Essentially, this is what I like to portray in my signature artistic work where the artwork is about this timeless concept in futbol.
Your work is known for its unique blend of sports and surrealism. What inspired you to merge these two worlds in your art?
My frustration of not being able to finish trainings, keep playing longer games, and eventually killing my dream to become a professional footballer, encapsulated me in my bedroom where I ended up doodling and drawing all the time. I feel that I relieved that frustration in my art. I remember drawing all the different club’s emblems or crests. I would draw cartoons of different players. I loved the passion behind this sport so much and I thought that I had to portray this passion on a canvas, but I didn’t know how. I just knew that I had to create something unique in sports that at the same time would have a deep meaning. My architectural background really helped in creating a ‘concept’ for these paintings. When studying architecture, one of the most important things that I learned was that in order to create a unique space or building, you need to have a concept. So, I applied that in my art. Painting these bodiless footballers in action, merged that unique idea and now I had a concept that I was able to share with the world and bring sports into art in a different way.
In what ways do you hope this collaborative project at Eisenhower Ninth Grade School will teach the students about art, culture, and collaboration?
I hope that I can share as many insights to the students at Eisenhower Ninth Grade School as possible. I hope that by creating a mural that depicts a concept about my artistic practice, will teach or inspire the students to seek for their own voice either in art or any other profession.
What advice would you give to young, aspiring Hispanic artists who are just starting their creative journeys?
I feel that when we are kids, we can absorb information much more since our brain is just learning about how the world works. We can learn how to become an engineer, an architect, or a lawyer. However, if we have the desire to become a professional artist, there’s not really a manual or guide to follow. The biggest influence is your gut. So, I would recommend to follow their instincts while, very importantly, be conscious that to bring your artistic journey to the next level, you need to learn so many more aspects that are required to make it a profession such as marketing, business, and history.
Follow Betirri on Instagram to join him on his artistic journey in Houston. Stay tuned for the mural reveal at Eisenhower Ninth Grade School by following Houston Loves Teachers on Facebook and Instagram.
Houston Loves Teachers is a collective impact campaign led by the College Football Playoff Foundation, Good Reason Houston, and the 2024 CFP National Championship Host Committee to recruit and retain excellent teachers in the Houston area.