This article originally appeared in the April 21st issue of our newsletter, The Raven. Subscribe HERE.
Football and obscure military figures from centuries past. Two things that go together like Lee Cattermole and ill-timed tackles. For proof, look no further than the work of Fabrizio Birimbelli. The Rome-based artist fuses footballers and old school military portraiture to create slices of magic that have set the Twitter-verse alight. In this edition of The Raven, we catch up with the computer programmer/Roma supporter about his inspiration, how he actually creates the works, and that time Clint Dempsey hit him up for a print.
MiB: Let’s start from the beginning. How are you creating these works? We like to imagine you in front of a massive canvas with Tim Howard posing in front of you for days on end. That’s how it goes, right?
FB: These are actually digital paintings. Rather than a brush and a canvas, I use a computer pen and a graphic tablet, blending oil, watercolor and pencil effects together. This is more time efficient than actual painting. And I love the magic UNDO button. That said, each work still takes me several days.
MiB: How did you get the idea for this series?
FB: It happened by chance. I painted a friend of mine in the military pose and many loved the way it came out. So I tried painting some AS Roma players (Totti, El Shaarawy) in a similar fashion. One of Roma’s digital media employees saw it and featured me on their site. Eventually, I made it to Trigoria (Roma's training camp) to give copies of my portraits to Antonio Rudiger and the living legend, Francesco Totti. I cried when I handed it to my hero.
MiB: How do you decide which footballers to feature? And once you decide, how do you pick what military uniform to portray them in?
FB: At first, choosing players was pretty simple: Ibra, CR7, Messi, but now it’s getting tougher to decide. I choose players who are leaders, and I prefer ones with strong faces, wrinkles, beards and mustaches. To me, that’s funnier than painting baby faces. I recently started a series of coaches: Mourinho, Klopp, Guardiola, Conte, Wenger, Pochettino. The ancient finish seems to fit these gents perfectly.
As far as what uniform I put on each subject, I don’t think a lot about that. I try and give the older ones more medals. And I usually put the crest of their club or country on each work. I do like to add gloves for the goalies, to highlight their hands are their weapons.
MiB: You do a lot of American footballers. Tell us about this.
FB: I didn’t know much about MLS at first. But Pirlo and Giovinco put American soccer in the Italian news. And I have many followers in the U.S., so I started to paint Americans. “Epic” seems to fit well with American sports, so I painted Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Michael Bradley. Clint Dempsey even contacted me for a print of his, so he could give it to his mother as a present. That made me really proud.