'Think about it. For ninety minutes or more your eyes are fixed on one thing, you are chasing one thing, fighting for one thing: the ball. My paintings distil that experience' immi. On show will be sixteen works by the artist immi, all of which pay homage to the ultimate contemporary icon: the football.
"Think about it. For ninety minutes or more your eyes are fixed on one thing, you are chasing one thing, fighting for one thing: the ball. My paintings distil that experience."
IZO Gallery presents "The Football Paintings", the first London exhibition of paintings by the artist, immi [22 November-24 December 2004]. On show will be sixteen works, all of which pay homage to the ultimate contemporary icon: the football.
In each work, the viewer is presented with a life-size depiction of a football in front of a minimal background. Presented out of context, the images acquire the aura of religious icons, transcendental paintings that enable communion with a higher reality.
immi views his footballs - some branded, some unbranded, some worn-out, some new-minted - as being like variations on the image of the Madonna. "This is not far-fetched. The balls are fundamentally feminine. They are a metaphor for the female form." immi even equates the famous Nike "swoosh" that appears in some of his paintings with the halo of traditional religious art.
immi's "icons" suggest that football has transcended its status as sport and become a religious ritual. "The players are viewed, really, as agents of God. This is accepted in the Latin countries. Maradona's 'Hand of God' remark when he punched a goal against England wasnâ€™t just cynical: it revealed how fans in South America understand the fortunes of a match."
"Football serves the cult of globalisation, which is capitalist utopianism. It is being built at great cost, like all utopias. But the balls themselves are beautiful, variations of a perfect form. They demand a sensual response. The most gifted ball-control artists come from places where youngsters play barefooted. Their intimacy with the ball is the secret of their skill."
immi came to the UK in 2003 and adopted the pseudonym "immi" to side-step the stereotypes of the art world ands avoid being judged by his background or ethnicity. The football paintings were motivated by his experience of going to London club matches and of playing football at weekends with other recent arrivals to the UK. immi's idea for the series came to him as an "epiphany" when watching the Italy-Bulgaria match at Euro 2004.
He is aware of football's capacity both to diminish difference and to exacerbate it. As with religion, when you support a team, or play for one, there is a constant tension between the comfort of belonging and the antagonisms of sectarianism. immi's de-contextualised images suggest both the passionate camaraderie of football and the conflict integral to the game.
Asked about the contemporary associations of footballs with, for example, trans-national neo-colonialism and child-labour, immi says: "In a way it is not surprising. The pyramids and medieval churches were built by forced labour, too. People are always exploited and coerced en masse on behalf of the great cults."
IZO Gallery, 4 Davies Street, Mayfair, London, W1K 3DL