Footballs, blood and gore: Mattia Guarnera-MacCarthy paints the gruesome side of sport

The London-based artist paints much more than a match: “even though it’s about football, it doesn’t have much to do with the sport itself.”

31 August 2021

In Mattia Guarnera-MacCarthy’s portfolio, you’ll stumble across a number of familiar motifs. Football pitches, boots, shirts and Nike socks; chewing gum being pulled from a mouth; a jockey riding a horse and wrestlers fighting in a ring. Themed on sport and entertainment, these recognisable scenes are then doused with a bit of gruesomeness, like the moment boot or football plummets into a face and blood splatters all over the place. Mattia has long drawn a focus on sports and games, having painted this subject since the very beginning – more or less – and with it has risen a uniquely vibrant style of gore and colour, all of which have been accentuated by his playful use of the airbrush.

Mattia grew up in Peckham, southeast London, and has always nurtured a creative side – despite it being a less than popular option for him, “especially amongst the mandem,” he tells It’s Nice That. “Fortunately, however, I had parents who stimulated my creative expression and made me believe in myself.” Sticking to his goals, Mattia was soon exploring a new path that was “out of the norm,” gaining respect from his peers “out of my authenticity to myself.” It’s a firm and devoted attitude that’s still very much present throughout his practice (and life) today “Beyond this, I would definitely say I’ve experienced some difficult periods in my life, in which art served as a light at the end of the tunnel; giving me something to look forward to, while also instilling my self-belief. Essentially, if it wasn’t for my art, I have no idea where I would be right now.”

At just 22 years old, Mattia’s practice is already refined in its coherency and skill. His style is instantly recognisable and toys with both hyperreality and realism, creating this slightly twisted world that pulls you in with shock, allure and excitement. As a “mixed-raced Londoner, heterosexual male,” this certainly drives and affects the final imagery he produces, that which draws from “past experiences, dreams and nostalgia,” he adds. Then, the more introspective is paired with an awareness of the audience, and how they might perceive it. This, he says, is the reason why he explores sports – a universal activity that many can relate to. “I have done so by capturing snapshots of interesting interactions and highlighted moments. Stripping away the greater spectacle of the sport and representing them through this mundane and often overlooked scenes.”


Mattia Guarnera MacCarthy: Keep calm and carry on (Copyright © Mattia Guarnera MacCarthy, 2021)

While working on any given piece, Mattia will turn towards digital techniques as a constant element of his process. Each starts off in the digital sphere, as he builds his references and inspirations on an iPad – something he marks as being a characterisation of Gen Z. “Growing up with video games and a mobile phone was an integral part of my experience. So essentially, just like everything else, I try to bring it all together to create a holistic final image that embodies how I perceive myself.” Additionally, Mattia adores the process of making and will, after working digitally, spend most of the process painting on the canvas. He employs an airbrush as his main tool as it allows an automatic, natural and instinctual feel to the end product.

Moving on to his recent ensemble of works, Mattia says, “without a doubt, I have to mention It Is What It Is.” It’s the one that depicts a footballer being hit in the face by a ball, with the fans watching n the background. It signifies the start of his football-inspired series and also a “big turning point” in his practice; it cuts out an isolated moment in a match and, even though it’s about football, it doesn’t have much to do with the sport itself. “Alongside this, the graphic depiction of the players’ facial expressions and splattering blood lends itself to the notion of suffering into truth, a term first established by Ancient Greek playwright, Aeschylus. The theology is extremely intriguing to me and is something that I saw as a missing link within my work. Once discovered, everything made sense; both respectively and for future pieces.”

In the coming months or so, Mattia plans to take a break from making anything else about sports. This will be the first time in years, and instead, he will be releasing a self-portrait of his torso and head. As part of a magazine titled A Body A Story, he responded to a brief about the idea of introspection as a point of inspiration. “Based on this,” he adds, “I decided to use the physical human body with scaring, blemishes, marks and tattoos. The piece embodies a profoundly truthful representation of myself and my story.” The piece is inspired by video games like WWE2K where fans custom-make skins, meaning you could create an accurate version of yourself or the character at hand. “I thought this was an important concept to caption, as well as it being an interesting way of portraying the human figure within the parameters of the four corners of the canvas.” Besides this, though, he hopes to just keep on churning out his art, “snowballing ideas that work and following my instinct to see where it takes me.”


Mattia Guarnera MacCarthy: Acquafresca (Copyright © Mattia Guarnera MacCarthy, 2021)


Mattia Guarnera MacCarthy: Rainy spell (Copyright © Mattia Guarnera MacCarthy, 2021)


Mattia Guarnera MacCarthy (Copyright © Mattia Guarnera MacCarthy, 2021)


Mattia Guarnera MacCarthy (Copyright © Mattia Guarnera MacCarthy, 2021)

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Mattia Guarnera MacCarthy: It is what it is (Copyright © Mattia Guarnera MacCarthy, 2021)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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