Having not missed a World Cup since childhood, I’m still amazed by how much power this poor man’s sport has in bringing people together. Unless you’re hiding away in a cave, there is no way you won’t get sucked into endless conversations about the game, be it with your friends, partner, family, coworkers, neighbors and, yes, even with your dentist. Your dog will be fascinated watching the ball bouncing around too. And unlike politics, you won’t threaten to never to speak to your dad again when he casually tells you that he wants Portugal to win.
While living in France, Mexican artist Ángel Zárraga became fascinated with football, as a way to study and explore the human body and its movement. He completed numerous portraits of players, shown in glorified stances, in the heat of the match, training or unwinding after a game. The artist depicted men and women alike – the latter might have had something to do with Zárraga falling in love with Jeanette Ivanoff, a successful, Russian-born professional player.
In Futbolistas en el llano the Mexican artist depicted a dynamic moment during a football match. It might not be obvious at first, due to the way the painting has been tightly cropped, but the scene we’re watching is taking place just in front of the goal. We can’t actually see it, except for the vertical blue line to the left which indicates the goalpost. It explains why the goalkeeper in pink has his fists in the air, punching out the ball.
Zárraga does a wonderful job at capturing a whole sequence of events: the man in the far distance, nicely framed by the players in the foreground, sends a pass to his teammate with the green and purple jersey, who is too late to jump to the ball. Meanwhile, a defender has fallen to the ground – the man who looks completely unnatural in the lower half of the painting, as if posing for Men’s Vogue Magazine.
There is movement and speed suggested by the use of line and color; the goalkeeper and the forward, in particular, look rather blurred. The latter’s hands were left unfinished, as they blend in with the background. Meanwhile, up in the air we can see diagonal lines that accentuate the goalie’s arms, body and upward direction. His chest also looks blurred and unfinished, making it clear that we’re witnessing a progressive movement and not a fixed pose. The greens, pinks, reds and blues offer the scene a cheerful mood, something you’d expect from a lively, Sunday game.
Zárraga is largely unknown today, yet, for a while, his Parisian studio gathered some of the most talented personalities, including Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, Georges Braque and Guillaume Apollinaire. He remains one of the first artists who revealed the world of football through paintings, at a time when this subject might have been considered out of place and before the popularity of the sport had reached its heights.