Ricardo Cavolo’s “Gol, carajo!” art exhibition captures the game’s greats

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George Best

Ricardo Cavolo is a Spanish designer, illustrator, painter and muralist. His work has been featured on city walls, canvases and bikes, shoes as well as the arms of some of his patrons. Recently, he embarked on a clothing collaboration with a notable soccer pub in Montréal that quickly spun into a full art exhibition featuring new portraits of icons of the game. Looking beyond the details of their faces, Cavolo looks deeper and highlights their spirit.

Here, he explains how the exhibition came about, his particular motivation for each portrait. See more of Ricardo Cavolo’s work on his website or on Instagram.

“Gol, carajo!” is a project that originated with idea in collaboration with Paul Des Baillets, an owner of three English-style pubs in Montréal. He’s an important figure in the city’s soccer culture. Initially, Paul wanted me to design the typical football scarf, t-shirt and sweatshirt for his main pub (The Burgundy Lion).

Having that, he thought it could be a nice idea to mix art and soccer in a deeper way, so he created an exhibition. He contacted Station16, a gallery from Montréal to do it, and they contacted me for that project. Only two weeks passed between the first ideas and the exhibition opening. The new pieces were created at Studio16, like an artist residence.

I had total freedom about the focus for the show. The only rule was to talk about soccer. As my work is usually based on portraits I decided to choose a few of the soccer players I love – not the best ones, but the ones I love for one or another reason.

Every portrait is a real player. One of the challenges was to create something interesting for fans, but at the same time, art that non-fans could enjoy at the same time. Soccer in Canada is not yet the biggest thing, similar to the United States.

So I used those portraits as a way of speaking about life in general. I think it worked, because most of the people at the opening didn’t care about soccer but they enjoyed the show as much as fans of the game.

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Diego (Maradona)

This one is about being a kind of hero, creator of magical things, but at the same time living in heaven and hell, as the life of Maradona.

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Lionel (Messi)

He is that kind of person focused on a particular goal of life and not being conscious about anything else around him. When Messi is on the pitch with the ball, nothing else matters.

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Zlatan (Ibrahimovic)

This portrait is about being born and raised in a dangerous ghetto. If you survive, you become someone powerful and unbeatable, but maybe also with an aggressive way of life.

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Xavi (Hernández)

He is a compass – the kind of person leading masses. The compass, the map and the decision of which way to choose.

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Johan (Cruyff)

This is as an alchemy master. A wise man, a teacher. That is what Johan Ctruyff was for soccer.

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Pep (Guardiola)

He is like the student of Johan, the alchemy master. Then he became a masonry master. The student becomes a teacher, a master of his own thing, enlightening life with his wisdom.

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José (Mourinho)

He represents the way of doing things under pressure and being the main target. As a horse running and struggling with a snake.

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Zinedine (Zidane)

He is a knight, a paladin. He defeats the dragon and rescues the princess. He represents the castle and its legacy.