Creative Soccer Culture

Chilean Artist Jeoan Joao Talks The Noughties, Ronaldo, & Inspiration

There’s a certain art to football, but flipping that ethos for a niche approach to his work, Chilean artist, Jeoan Joao has been tapping into his nostalgic memories to put football to his art.

Football is known as the global game, loved and appreciated in virtually in every corner of the world. European football is arguably the pinnacle of the sport, and its influence is felt far beyond the geographical borders of the continent, as evidenced by Jeoan Joao, an artist from Chile who has found inspiration from his childhood, and the giants of the game that plied their trade through the early 2000s. His work has gone on to gain widespread appreciation, particularly following his first exhibition, centred around Joga Bonito.

Within his standout style you’ll find no Mbappé or Haaland, no Salah or Benzema – heck, you’ll even be hard pressed to find much of Messi. That’s because Joao draws on the golden era that was the early noughties, a defining era in his adolescence, and one that certainly left its mark. The likes of Zidane, Edgar Davids, Ronaldinho all playing central roles in his creations. And then, of course, there’s El Fenomeno, Ronaldo. The man pretty much embodies that generation of football, and as a result he features prominently throughout Joao’s work, his play seared into the impressionable mind of the artist.

Joao’s work is literally like taking images from your own memory – slightly hazy in recollection, but vibrant in colour and nostalgia, from players to products, moments of magic to moments of madness, it’s all there to be admired. We recently touched base with Joao to talk all about his art, his inspiration, what football culture is like in his homeland, and also touching on what projects he has in the pipeline.

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Can you tell us a bit about your background, both as a football fan and as an artist?

I started to paint when I was about 15 or 16 years old, but my interest in painting began developing with more direction a few years later. By 2019 I was painting every day.

Soccer has always been with me though. I remember from about three or four years old playing with my dad. When I look back on my life, I can’t think about it without also thinking about football.

When did you decide to combine your passions for football and art?

I guess it started pretty early on. When I was studying art and thinking of projects, football was always in my mind. All my memories, they’re so intrinsically linked to the game that it’s an instant source of inspiration. As my studies progressed and I moved on to university, I wanted to combine my passions even more.

How would you describe your style of art and the way that you create your work?

My focus is solely on painting – I don’t do any other forms of art. As I mentioned previously, my work is usually inspired by my own personal memories, usually from my childhood; things that form who I am as a person and that have influenced my character over the years. I try to reflect myself through my art as much as I can.

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What are some of your earliest memories of football?

My first memories of football come from the pitch that was literally right around the corner from where I grew up. It’s where I started playing with my dad at first, and then later with friends. Growing up, I remember watching a lot of Cristiano Ronaldo in his first season at Manchester United; the things he did with his feet, his dribbling, all of that, he was just amazing to watch. One of my favourite memories was in the Champions League final against Barcelona – Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo for the first time.

Your work is often centred around the early 2000s. Why do you take so much inspiration from that era?

When I was younger, growing up in the hood you had to be the best – you had to have the best things, be the best player – all of that – and for me, the best players, the best with the ball at their feet, were these players from this generation – players like Ronaldo Nazário, Ronaldinho, Adriano etc. It was also these players that I played as on the PlayStation – absolute legends of the game. I’d play as Ronaldo all day – he was easily my favorite player, and so my work is a reminiscence of those childhood times. You can see from my work that Ronaldo Nazário is one of my favorite players of all-time. I even have a tattoo of him on my chest – I think that says it all!

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A lot of your work is also focused on football boots and jerseys. Where does that interest come from?

Again, it goes back to my childhood. When I was little, all the kids wanted to dress like footballers, like the stars that they watched on TV, and to grow up to be a footballer. So, everyone was looking to have the team shirts and all that stuff. So, when I look back, I remember all those classic boot models and kits. It’s pure nostalgia.

Do you have a favourite football shirt and boot?

I’d say I have two for each. Brazil’s 2002 World Cup jersey, for sure. And then the first shirt that Beckham wore for Manchester United. Then for boots, it would be the first Mercurial’s that Ronaldo wore in 1998. The others would be Ronaldinho’s Tiempo’s. And there’s also the Total 90s… I love them all.

Can you tell us about your recent Joga Bonito exhibition?

For me it was a dream to do an entire exhibition about football – it was special. It was my first proper exhibition, and I was very happy and proud of it. I was able to make it what I wanted it to be, and that has resulted in making new contacts and getting my work more widely recognised.

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Do you have plans to do more like this in the future?

Yeah, for sure. I’m working on some stuff and I’m hoping to go to London next year. I think it will work nicely as a sequel to the last exhibition. I think there will also be a more mature look to what I’m doing as my ability progresses. So, yeah, there’s more coming that I’m already working on, and hopefully there may be some more collaborative stuff in the pipeline as well.

Would one of your dreams be for Ronaldo to see your work?

Oh yeah, that would be amazing. I don’t just love the player he was; I also think he has a great personality. I also have a gap in my front teeth, and I see other similarities between us, so just to imagine that he has admired my art, that would be a dream. The thought of meeting him in person as well… that is a way bigger dream for me than just improving my art!

Do you have any pieces that you’re working on at the moment that you’re particularly excited about?

Yeah, I recently watched the Beckham documentary on Netflix, and that got me very inspired to do a massive Beckham painting. I’ve completed my sketches and planning, so now I’m working on bringing that to life. My head’s full of Beckham ideas following that documentary.

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Are there any current players that you’re inspired by?

To be totally honest, I’m not as into modern football. The game has changed a lot. When you look back to your childhood, there’s always a fondness that’s laced throughout. I like Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, but they’re older players, and that says a lot. Vinicius Jr is good, but beyond that, I’m not seeing much that inspires me at present. I’d definitely say I like the more flashy players, the ones who do more interesting stuff to win a game. I don’t think you have those players so much in modern football.

Is there a European team from a particular era that is your favourite?

I loved the AC Milan side from 2004/05, the side that lost in the final to Liverpool. That team was packed with stars, and it was definitely one of my favourite of all-time. Cafu, Dida, Maldini, Gattuso, Kaka – I loved them all. They had so much character. They were aggressive, but with a great balance of courage.

You’ve mentioned Ronaldo, but if you had to pick your top three players of all time, who would they be?

It’s hard because there have been so many great players over the years. For me though, it must be Ronaldo Nazário number one. Then Zidane, and finally Ronaldinho. It’s almost impossible not to say Messi, but they’re the ones that hold a special place in my heart.

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Check out more of Jeoan Joao's work here.

Daniel Jones

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