ricardo cavolo, colours that move us, symbols that decode us

By Sebastián Gámez Millán

Winner of the Yorokobu cover contest in 2012, Ricardo Cavolo (Salamanca, 1982) is one of the most prestigious illustrators in Spain and one of the most internationally well-known. His murals, colour and symbol explosions, can be seen in cities such as London, Cologne, Moscow, Queretaro (Mexico), Madrid, Montreal or Saint Petersburg, spreading through exhibitions and books but also tequila bottles, sneakers, T-shirts, scarves, jackets, trousers and skirts like a contagious virus. It’s the vitality and passion that his images convey.

It isn’t coincidental. Cavolo works while he is in a trance, possessed by a rapture that is similar to that delirium-like state described by Plato during an artist’s process of creation. That’s why he works fast, before the spell fades away. Accordingly, with few exceptions, he doesn’t make use of sketches: the magic, the thrill of discovering, is lost. This relates him to naïve art. In fact, when he is working he doesn’t prepare a colour palette beforehand, he finds it intuitively while the piece is taking shape. He admits that this method prevents his works from having a perfect finish but he is not willing to give up on the adventure of creating on the spot.

Before finishing his studies in Fine Arts and getting his Associate Degree in Image, Cavolo had a teacher at home that is likely to have influenced his calling: his father, a painter who helped him find for himself his way, his voice and his style, despite the fact that it is extremely difficult to transmit without simultaneously interfering in the process of acquiring techniques and resources, unlike in academic training. Another crucial tip from his father is his passion for colour, palpable in the currents he spiritually fed his son’s stare with: impressionism, post-impressionism, expressionism…

Yet, Cavolo feeds on many influences such as comics, tattoos, tribal, primitive art, Romanesque art, etc. Therefore, it’s an international eclectic style, typical of post-modernity, an age when very different styles coexist, some of which seem to be conflicting and incompatible at first. One could say he is almost kitsch. But as art critic, historian and one of the first and main defenders of the artistic value of cartoon strips and comics in Hispanic culture Juan Antonio Ramírez has argued, the beginnings of kitsch are the beginnings of art.

Certainly, Cavolo is not interested in the meaning of the artwork, much less in closing it. As a result, faced with the different readings that his images provoke he prefers to avoid explaining their meaning. His style is characterized by just the opposite, that is, by symbolism and an endless capacity to suggest interpretations. Some of his recurring symbols are the fires that fill his artworks and especially the multiple eyes of human figures, animals and nature elements as if everything could look at us and not just be looked at …Is it an animistic, pantheistic or religious conception in the spiritual sense of the term? Wouldn’t we act more ethically if we knew we are being watched all the time?

Likewise, his artworks, which look like paintings inside paintings (paintings that are worlds with obvious identifying symbols) include many characters who have tattoos in which their biography is secretly encoded. These rhetorical strategies arouse curiosity, spur us to sharpen our stare, to focus, to enquire and recreate the artwork while we build our interpretation.

The question of what an artwork means for its author makes no sense or, to put it another way, its interpretation has a certain value but can’t put an end to the fact that each viewer receives it differently since they enrich each piece with imaginative readings. I wonder to what extent the life of a piece doesn’t depend on its reception.

Colour is another remarkable feature of Cavolo’s style, the use of colour is clean, vivid, bright and intense. His pieces are light explosions. He acknowledges that these artworks are bent on drawing attention to the sensorial rather than the narrative aspect. And this is mostly due to colour. If we think about one of the stories of modern painting (though truth be told neither painting nor any other art form can be boiled down to a story), from Delacroix to Rothko including impressionism, post-impressionism, fauvism and the so-called abstraction, the focus is on how colour becomes independent. Kandinsky, in Concerning the spiritual in art claimed: “In general, colour is a means to exert a direct influence on the soul. Colour is the key, the eye, the hammer. The soul is the piano with many chords. The artist is the hand that, with different keys, makes the human soul vibrate”.

Finally, it must be said that Ricardo Cavolo practices different techniques and art practices, from book illustration to pyrography, from working with the most famous circus in the world, Cirque du Soleil – a life changing step in his career- to collaborating with fashion designers. He has illustrated music and cinema books, special stories or JAMFRY, which can be considered an autobiography. At present he is exhibiting in a London gallery “The hero’s wound”, where we can see characters such as Conan or Bart Simpson from a pathetic rather than ethic point of view, as vulnerable heroes who have to deal with their inner demons and monsters too.

He is increasingly interested in exploring the world of emotions and feelings. He admits that art is related to self-knowledge, healing, self-care and caring for others. He dreams of continuing painting murals all around the world as he has been doing for eight years and painting a church, like Picasso or Matisse among others. But he will do it his way, with his personal colour palette and the symbols that set his style apart.