By Javier Castro Bugarin
Buenos Aires, Jan 4 (EFE).- Argentines continue to celebrate their victory in the World Cup, glued to screens for reruns of the thrilling Dec. 18 final against defending champions France and gathering on street corners to toast their heroes.
And the country’s artists are fully onboard with World Cup mania, filling the streets of Buenos Aires and other cities with paintings and murals immortalizing the epic of Qatar 2022, all of them including the team’s captain and talisman, Lionel Messi.
“The day we won, people began to say to me that they were awaiting my mural of Messi with the Cup. I chose for it to be in the street, that it be the first, that it be for the people,” artist Maximilano Bagnasco tells EFE of his tribute to the Argentina captain in the capital’s Palermo neighborhood.
Bagnasco is famous for his portraits of Argentine football legend Diego Armando Maradona (1960-2020), including a mural 40 m (131 ft) tall in Canning, a town southwest of Buenos Aires.
While millions were in the streets celebrating Argentina’s third World Cup (the first since Maradona lifted the trophy in 1986), Bagnasco was in his studio selecting the best image to use as a template for his mural.
The artist eventually settled on a photo of a beaming Messi, clad in the “bisht” (cloak) draped around his shoulders by the emir of Qatar, raising the World Cup trophy in the midst of his teammates.
Now, Bagnasco’s vibrant rendering of that moment covers an area 6 m (19.7 ft) tall by 5 m (16.3 ft) wide at the intersection of Darwin and Gorriti Streets, near Palermo’s entertainment district.
“In this image I see him as happy: a person who is criticized so much and who changed all that in one moment,” the artist says of his latest creation.
The mural was an instant success, as news crews and fans flocked to what quickly became known as “Messi Corner.”
While Bagnasco’s was the first World Cup mural, it was soon joined by others, such as a depiction in the San Telmo neighborhood of another iconic moment of the tournament: when Messi mimicked the gesture of the beloved Italian television puppet Topo Gigio to taunt the Netherlands after the Albiceleste defeated the Oranje on penalties in the quarterfinal.
In the western city of San Juan, a merchant decided to cover the walls of his establishment with images of Messi kissing the World Cup trophy.
That same image inspired muralists in the Patagonian city of Neuquen and in Jardin America, in Argentina’s far north.
Yet none of the recent creations can compete in size with the 69 m tall mural of Messi painted by Lisandro Urteaga last year in the seven-time Ballon d’Or’s native Rosario.
The superstar stands with his hand on his heart and his gaze fixed on the waters of the Parana River.
A few artists have offered representations positing a spiritual connection between Messi and Maradona, who worked together during the latter’s 2008-2010 tenure as coach of the Albiceleste.
Bagnasco sees little value in comparisons of Maradona and Messi, as “they are two different people in two different eras,” though they both embody the national spirit.
“These people inspire so much and we hold them so close in Argentina,” he says. “It’s the motivation a country has to want to be a Maradona, a Messi or whoever it may be later,” the artist said.