Ahead of new show at Atomica Gallery, Spanish artist Ricardo Cavolo shares the elemental things that inspire his primal paintings.

Ahead of new show at Atomica Gallery, Spanish artist Ricardo Cavolo shares the elemental things that inspire his primal paintings.

Ricardo Cavolo is a Spanish artist now based in Brighton, UK. His bright and bold creations – usually made with traditional techniques and materials such as watercolours, inks and acrylics – depict misfit characters in Frida Kahlo-esque folk art tones and bring ’em into a contemporary context with cool details like glasses, tattoos, bikes and dope shoes.

For his new show Life & Lives at the rad Atomica Gallery in Soho, Cavolo has made fifteen portraits of society’s ‘outsiders’ – from artists and orphans to prisoners, feral children and slum kids – in order to tell multiple stories about their pigeon-holed identities. “Every portrait speaks about something big in life,” the primal painter says, “love, madness, roots, bravery, misery, hope… and at the same time it is a portrait of a particular person in the world. A portrait can hold an entire universe in a single face.”

We caught up with Cavolo to find out what floats his boat in the inspiration department.


Things That Inspire Me

By Ricardo Cavolo


I love trying to figure out the story of every person I see in the streets. I pay attention to personal details and try to create a story about them that I would love to tell through illustration. I am so interested in particular lives, all of them have something magic and unique. That’s why I always work around portraits, people. Even if I want to speak about something more general, I use a person to explain my theory. Portrait is the best way for speaking about humanity: love, hate, hope, sadness, bravery… we can find all these things in people’s faces.

Outsider Art
Outsider Art and Folk Art are my favourite types of art, because they are the purest. No silly marketing concepts on these artists’ minds. They work solely for fun, or sadness, or happiness, or love, or hate… and with these pure feelings you obtain the most powerful pieces. This way of creating art is so direct that it has the power to leave me shocked. So many times I have stood in front of a piece and I don’t know what to say. I just smile, or feel a big punch in my stomach, or suddenly I feel so sad, or I fall in love with that artist. That is what we demand from art, to be moved. And I have to say there are not so many pieces of art that give me those feelings. But Outsider Art doesn’t fail, it always gives me that, and even more.

The visual aspect of something or someone always catches my attention. So when someone has their life tattooed in their skin, I think it is something wonderful. I love that tattoos can speak about a life; they are a biography in the skin. More than that, tattoos can be magical symbols or talismans. If I need something in my life I try to achieve it through my actions, but magical help is always welcome, so I get tattooed to help me obtain what I need. ‪For my work, tattoos are the perfect tool. I need to explain the whole life of my characters and tattooing them is the best way to speak about them. It is like creating little stories inside another, bigger story. Like planets in solar systems, within galaxies, within the Universe. ‬Tattoos are codes, they have meaning, they speak a new language, a graphic alphabet. That is perfect.

Myths and Legends
I love to read books about myths and legends from different cultures. All of them try to explain life and the world in their own way; I love these magical tales for explaining why we are like we are. I use these stories to create a secret symbology within my work. I convert ideas or themes into graphic symbols and use them to speak about life. Reading these myths and legends you can find different theories on life; they are primitive but they still connect with us. We can be the most modern and technological version of a human being possible, but inside we are still primitive.

Hip Hop
When I was a little kid I really loved hip hop, I thought there wasn’t any better music. As I got older (or youngless), I began looking for new musical ways. I found some wonderful treasures. During that journey of discovery though, I experienced prejudice. Although rap is seen as fun music, people said it wasn’t as good as other “deeper” styles of music. I recognise that even I began to think in that way. But after that period when you need to fit in among other people, I realised that I needed hip hop in my life everyday. I still treasure the new music I discovered, but I can’t give up hip hop. It puts me in the perfect mood and gives me the energy to work everyday. Now I don’t feel the need to fit in, I can proudly hold the hip-hop flag.

Life & Lives opens at Atomica Gallery, Soho, London, on December 5 and runs until December 29, 2013.