No matter how much you try to avoid it, the World Cup is just around the corner. And as those indifferent to football are preparing for the gradual societal regression into primitive, chest-beating hooligans, Pepsi has launched a campaign celebrating the beautiful game, entitled “The Art of Football.” It may sound cheesy, it may sound twee, it may sound like the mother of all sell-outs (or like we’re plugging it,) but actually, this unlikely ménage-a-quatre manages to merge football and art quite smoothly.

You hate on it at first, but this combination of sport and art works.

 

 

Pepsi enlisted photographer and director Danny Clinch, former protégé of Annie Leibovitz and snapper of famous faces such as Bruce Springsteen, to capture the essence and charisma of six of the world’s most famous footballers. The resulting portraits were then reinterpreted by street artists that hail from the same countries as the footballer they were commissioned to paint.

And of course, a football line-up would be incomplete without Argentine representation. It’s a no-brainer that everyone’s favorite wunderkind Lionel Messi made the cut, and he was joined in the official selection by his teammate, Sergio “El Kun” Agüero. Rounding out the group, Robin van Persie, Jack Wilshere, David Luiz and Sergio Ramos were represented by artists from their home countries of The Netherlands, England, Brazil and Spain, respectively.

So, two Argentine players means two Argentine street artists, Jaz and Ever, responsible for painting Agüero and Messi. but “Spanish” artist Zosen was actually born in Argentina, so technically, there are three Argentines represented because Argentina is just that badass. Not that anyone’s counting or anything.

If you’ve wandered the streets of Palermo or Villa Crespo, then you can’t avoid walking past, and hopefully admiring, works by Jaz and Ever. Two of the most well-known urban muralists, they have been friends since adolescence, and even share a studio in Buenos Aires, a source of amusement for Pepsi, who approached them separately about the project.

While these two may be best friends, they reacted differently when approached by Pepsi. Ever is a provocateur artistically inspired by the likes of Chairman Mao, whose face he has featured heavily in his Buenos Aires art. He recently finished a piece depicting a graphic orgy (yes, Chairman Mao is featured in the orgy, in case you were wondering), so the Pepsi project was a big proverbial left turn, to say the least. Ultimately, as a football aficionado, it was impossible to turn down the offer.

Attracted to the challenge of providing something that the brand would be happy with while remaining true to his individual style, Ever agreed to sign on. Jaz, who had experience with other commercial brands, also agreed to participate.

 

Apart from requiring the use of Pepsi colors, the brand gave the artists complete freedom to do what they wanted, requiring the player’s approval of a sketch, and nothing more, before giving the go-ahead to start the final product. The project was smooth, as athletes and artists were united by a common enthusiasm for the project, curious to see how the world of sport and street art would blend. Through his piece, Ever wanted to reflect the poetry and velocity of Messi’s movement on the pitch, and to “capture the passion [for football] in Argentina, and describe that passion with color.”

Jaz says he was jealous of Ever for one day (and one day only!) when he found out his friend had been chosen to paint Messi, as he often looks to Argentine football, and its own breed species of hooligans, for inspiration in his art. But when he saw Clinch’s portrait of Sergio Agüero, he was pleased to find that it the most “aggressive” of the six, and incorporated the beasts that he is so famous for into the work, positioning them to collide and bounce off of each other the same way “El Kun” weaves through four defenders in the blink of an eye.

 

This is not likely to be the last time Jaz and Ever are offered a commercial commission. The question of how they will react the next time they are approached by a brand looms near. The experience with Pepsi was positive, overall, but neither will deny that a nice paycheck is always a strong incentive to take a job. And the more exposure they get from big brands, the more freedom they have to be selective when it comes to the projects they choose to participate in. A mural Jaz painted in ArtBasel Miami was featured in the latest Pixies video last year, and both artists are excited by the prospect of being incorporated to other types of artistic mediums.

The popularity of street artists like Banksy has drawn more commercial ventures to street art, a paradox, given the fact that Banksy’s subversive artwork is anything but corporate-friendly. Taking street art off of the street and injecting it into a brand like Pepsi can have a serious impact on an artist’s reputation, and Jaz and Ever were well-aware of this fact.

But who wouldn’t want to fly first class to London for free, slurp up the mini-bar at a 5-star hotel and have your name thrown around in the same sentences as world class football players? Don’t act like you don’t like the sound of that.

If you want to see for yourself what all the fuss is about, head down to Fiebre Galeria this Friday to check out Jaz’s latest solo exhibition. And while we’re on the topic of free shit…there will be free wine there, which is nice too.