Ricardo Cavolo is a storyteller. Born in his father’s painting studio in Spain, he was brought up in a world of painting, drawing and color. Known for a vibrant visual language, Ricardo invokes a wide range of sources that include folk art, traditional and modern tattoo culture, European religious imagery and the tribal arts. Working on a range of projects and surfaces, from paper, canvas and walls to record covers, tarot cards and clothes, his practice is rich.
Focusing on people who are on the B side of life, as he describes them, Ricardo adorns his portraits with intricate symbols, weaving a complex narrative about each one of them. With wonderful imagination and particular attention to colors and moods, he brings traditional and iconic characters into the modern world. Vigorous and engaging, his style reflects an acute awareness of art history and a vast curiosity about the diversity of global cultures.
PRØHBTD chatted with Cavolo to find out more about his practice. The talented artist talks about his influences, outcasts, storytelling, symbols, music, his new clothing brand and much more.
Your art draws from a range of different sources, such as religious iconography, mythology, mysticism, magic, old school tattoos, and medieval, outsider and folk art. How do you articulate all these different influences into your own visual language?
The thing is, I’m not sure. It comes in a natural way. All those inspirations you mentioned are my main background so they were inside of myself for a long time, and it comes out in an organic and natural way. Sometimes it’s more comic, other times more medieval, or outsider, or tribal... I never plan how to do that. It has to be natural.
Your work revolves around portraits that serve as a powerful vehicle for storytelling. What kind of characters draw you the most and why?
Yeah, I’m really interested in portraying people from, what I call, the B side of life: people living in the peripheries, people misunderstood like minorities, outsiders, non-standard people. Diane Arbus used to portray the same people through her photos.
Your distinct and otherworldly approach to portraiture includes recurring emblems like flames, hearts, birds, daggers, snakes and cannabis leaves. What do you want to express through this intricate imaginarium?
All those symbols are information I’m providing about the person in the portrait. Every single detail is there for a particular reason. But I feel shy when I have to talk about the meaning. I like when people create their own versions of the meaning.
Your subjects are often depicted with multiple eyes. What’s the meaning behind this motif?
It’s another symbol to let people know that the person in the portrait is not a regular or standard one. She or he is special so you should pay attention to the details, the symbols, to know more about her or him.
Color is an important aspect of your work. What are you trying to convey through your vivid, psychedelic palette?
The color palette I use is based on my mood. If the painting is about something powerful and strong, the color palette will be different than in a painting with a melancholic meaning. More than that, I don’t usually plan the color palette, I’m deciding the next color based on my guts.
You have been working on a range of media and projects, from drawings, prints and murals to tarot cards and books. How has this diversity of practice shaped you as an artist?
In fact, I need that variety of formats and projects. I couldn’t just paint on the canvas, or just illustrate books, or just murals… I’d be bored, and then my work would become boring.
You’ve designed record covers and sleeves for artists such as Kaytranada and Macklemore and discussed your personal relationship with music in your book 101 Artists to Listen to Before You Die. What kind of impact has music had on your life and work?
I don’t use drugs—just coffee—so music does to me what drugs do to other people. Some people need that as a vehicle to arrive to a new point, and music does that to me. Especially with rap and hip-hop, when I listen to it, I get in a funny and crazy mood that is perfect to create.
You also recently launched your own clothing brand. How did that happen?
It’s been my dream for the last few years, and now we were finally able to bring together a team to make it possible. I want to go really slow, and do things in the right way. I love this project so much, and I want it to last for a long, long time. I’ve always been really interested in fashion. I think it is a really complete art because the designer expresses his feelings while creating a collection, and people express themselves wearing a specific clothing as a flag [that says], "This is me, my identity."
Any other future plans and projects?
Now I’m working on my new book, a sort of biography of myself. So many things happened to me since I was a kid that I wanted to create an illustrated book about it. I’m also working on my next exhibition for early 2019 in London.