Barcelona-based artist Ricardo Cavolo brings his elaborate characters to life through intricate symbols, vivid colours and playful motifs.
Across cultures far and wide, the eyes are said to be a window into the soul. They communicate exactly what a person thinks or feels without the need for words. They’re also a recurring theme throughout the artwork of Ricardo Cavolo. Not only do they reflect the power and insight of his characters, but they also showcase the complex inner layers that lay beyond the surface level. The Spanish illustrator has risen to prominence for his vivid portraits and intricate subjects, with multiplying sets of eyes being one of his most recognizable motifs.
It’s easy to lose yourself in Ricardo’s world. His artwork is a mosaic of symbols, colours and characters that are simply waiting to be decoded. Equal parts artist and storyteller, he incorporates layered imagery derived from religion and folk culture that only adds to the surreal nature of his portraits. You’d be forgiven if you thought his characters were simply pulled from his imagination when, in fact, it’s actually the opposite. “Everything is based in our reality,” assures Ricardo. “Even fantasy is based on our lives and it’s simply taken to another dimension.”
These characters, real or not, are at the heart of the Barcelona-based artist’s collection of work. Ricardo superbly tells the stories, feelings and experiences of his subjects through detailed brush strokes and vibrant colour. If it’s not the eyes, there’s often some defining physical details that make his characters stand out from the ordinary. “I like to pay attention to people and things in my daily life so that I can use them for my work,” he explains. “Even if what I’m creating isn’t based in reality. Most of the time, I use my own fantasy to talk about reality.”
As the child of an art instructor, Ricardo was raised in the world of drawing and painting. He’s been a student his whole life, surrounded by brushes, canvases and colours. “It’s been a very fluid path,” he says. “Since I was able to handle markers, I haven’t stopped drawing. It’s been apart of my inner universe to this day.” He points to his father as the authoritative figure who enabled him to achieve his dream when he saw that Ricardo had the talent.
Ricardo now boasts a brilliant portfolio that ranges from high-publicized wall murals to solo exhibitions across the globe. He’s collaborated with a long list of brands that includes the likes of Jose Cuervo, Bally, Alexander McQueen and Nike. Exploding onto the scene with his vibrant and eclectic style, his characters now grace all corners of the world.
Despite all this, Ricardo will be the first to tell you that his success was more of a slow build than overnight stardom. While he’s been creating his entire life, his unique style didn’t stem from some sort of Hollywood ‘eureka’ moment. “It’s been a long, long way,” admits Ricardo. Instead, he points towards copying and imitating his favourite styles and artists for fun and without a purpose in his spare time. “I want to be able to recreate the styles that I’ve always loved and admired,” he adds.
Passion is a term that’s thrown around lightly in the art word, but with Ricardo, you can sense it the moment he begins speaking. And you can see it clearly in his artwork. Whether he’s working on a wall mural or covering canvas in acrylic, there’s something very pure and sincere about the way he goes about things. It’s part of the reason why he’s earned an international cult following over the years. His lifetime devotion to art is what led him to stumble upon his own style, taking bits and pieces of inspiration from far-reaching corners. “But in an unconscious way, just being guided by my guts,” he adds.
Even during his time studying Fine Art at the University of Salamanca, he maintains that his most crucial bits of learning came in his studio when he was simply imitating his favourite styles. Before he even thought about taking the leap to become a full-time artist, he was an Art Director at a handful of magazines and agencies. “I never really decided to become a professional, I’m just developing the only action I know,” Ricardo says. “I guess I’m just lucky that it became my job.”
Ricardo’s main source of inspiration is people and their stories. This is something that he really uncovered as he gradually gained status in the art world. For Ricardo, each illustration is an opportunity to dive into the lives of his characters and his complex portraits include tons of details that may go unnoticed.
While a trippy set of eyes may be his most recognizable motif, his artwork is often littered with flaming hearts, dripping candles, bouquets of roses, goblets and stars. He looks towards everything from outsider groups to traditional European imagery in order to communicate these stories. “Old-school tattoo culture is very interesting in terms of using symbology in a simple and direct way,” he explains. “Tribal art is another one, in terms of mixing visual arts and magic in a very simple way.”
Building on his eclectic blend of styles and cultures, Ricardo throws in a healthy dose of pop culture references to round out his one-of-a-kind artwork. Music, in particular, has always had a profound impact on his work. A few years ago, he designed his own musical diary entitled 101 Artists to List to Before You Die. Featuring Kanye West, Chief Keef, J.S. Bach, Johnny Cash, Amy Winehouse, Daft Punk, the graphic novel depicts Ricardo’s favourite musicians and who he believes to have the ability to make a profound impact on an individual’s life. His relationship with the music industry doesn’t stop there. He also designed Kaytranada’s 99.9% album artwork after connecting with the Canadian producer during his frequent trips to Montreal.
Through a frenetic mishmash of symbols, colours and characters, Ricardo weaves through intricate narratives in his artwork. He honours the oddity in our world, incorporating imagery from all corners of the world. As long as he has his music and instruments, he’s good to go, and the rest will take care of itself. “I’m just focused on expressing what I have on the inside,” says Ricardo. “I’m great at just isolating myself, wherever I am, and just getting lost in my own universe.”