The death of football idol Diego Maradona late last year was a defining moment for all of Argentina, and the entire football world mourned the former Boca Juniors, Barcelona and Napoli striker. Maximiliano Bagnasco’s experience shows how important Maradona still is to his country, more than three decades after he led the country to the world title in 1986.
Maradona, who was struggling with his health, died on the 25th. November to a heart attack at the age of 60 in his home in the suburbs of Buenos Aires. The news of his death shocked Bagnasco, a 39-year-old artist from the Argentine capital. As he pondered what all this meant, Bagnasco began to do what he had done countless times before: draw a portrait of Maradona.
I wrote down the whole process, and when I was done, I wrote it down here: Ciao, Diego. I also picked you the day you left, Bagnasco told ESPN by phone.
The portrait, taken in one take while Bagnasco was still in mourning, quickly went viral and catapulted his career into the spotlight.
Hours after posting the video on Instagram, an Argentine TV show showed Bagnasco in action during a tribute to Maradona. Soon after, spectators from all over Argentina, including football clubs, began asking for his paintings.
I have painted Maradona all my life, he said. When I was a teenager, I even drew it with my daughters and walked to his house on the corner of Segurole and Habana to give it to him.
Bagnasco never knew what the Maradona family had done with the photo, but there was much more where that came from. He won his first art competition when he was nine years old, painting reproductions of works by Vincent van Gogh. By the time he decided to make art his profession at the age of 17, he had already created over 100 works with Maradona as his muse – although he doesn’t consider himself a football fan.
Diego is the greatest machine in my country, Bagnasco said. He represents us the most and he has been an inspiration to me.
Bagnasco said his followers on Instagram have nearly doubled since he posted the portrait, with the reach growing from regional recognition to global popularity.
Buenos Aires Argentina Juniors, the club where Maradona made his professional debut in his youth, has requested Bagnasco’s services for a portrait of their great prodigy in a shrine dedicated to the late superstar. Soon after, Bagnasco received calls from media outlets in Venezuela, Italy and China. The artist admits that the experience has made him incredulous.
I saw my name in Portuguese, in Italian, Bagnasco said. I never thought I would be asked to participate in a project in Qatar, nor did I think I would be taking calls from Germany or China.
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After working on the shrine for the Argentine juniors, Mr. Bagnasco and his team completed two more murals and even the floor of a private pool – all at a time when they were overwhelmed with requests from around the world.
Suddenly everyone wanted a Maradona mural in their house, he said. We have persuaded others to do the same.
The Patio de los Lecheros, a popular market in Buenos Aires, also commissioned Bagnasco to create a work in honor of Maradona, which was also used for charity. The idea was to create 19 paintings and auction them off, Bagnasco said. We did 18 in the studio and the last one on location. I’ve had the press in my studio every day since I posted the first two.
For the mural at the food market, Bagnasco said he wanted to depict Maradona at different stages of his life: I wanted to choose images that are not common in murals. I’ve drawn Diego about 30 times since he left, but I’m not bored because everyone has a different perspective. Viewers can follow Maradona’s journey from a dashing young number 10 at the 1979 World Youth Championship to a world star a few years later, with dyed blonde hair, visibly enjoying his retirement in Cuba.
The demand for Bagnasco’s works has led to a rise in prices. Of course he wants to strike now that the iron is hot to secure his future, a rare opportunity for most working artists. The paintings start at 70,000 Argentine pesos (about $750), but the price depends on the details, the wishes of the client and the time spent on the work.
The prices in Argentina for paintings that cost us a day and a half are a bargain when you look at them from another country, Bagnasco said. I’m trying to find common ground. Before Diego, I loaded and worked differently. I was looking for a way to increase productivity so the machines could run faster to meet demand.
Other murals went viral because they didn’t look like Diego and people didn’t care. But the quality of our work has surprised people because it looks real. I always shoot with the same quality in all my work.
While Bagnasco is looking to meet short-term demand for his work around the world, he has his sights set on the ultimate goal of an artist who is also a Maradona player: to represent him for posterity in Naples, the site of his greatest European club glory and where a stadium has been renamed in his honor.
Many Napoli fans have written to me, Bagnasco said. For me, one of the best things that can happen is to paint Maradona in Naples. It would be a dream for an Argentine to do it there.
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