Painting a Fútbol Culture onto Montreal

Local Pub Owner Enlists Help of Spanish Artist to Unite Art and Soccer

Photo Shaun Michaud
Photo Shaun Michaud
Photo Shaun Michaud
Photo Shaun Michaud

When you’re talking about a sport you’re passionate about, it’s easy to get sidetracked.

As Ricardo Cavolo and Paul Desbaillets discussed the growing partnership of FC Barcelona’s two international superstars, Neymar and Lionel Messi, the two friends seemingly forgot why they were together that night in the first place.

Cavolo, a Spanish artist and illustrator currently based in Brighton, U.K., opened his latest exhibition “Gol, Carajo!” to the public at a vernissage held in Galerie Station 16 last Wednesday.
The Spanish artist created surrealist portraits of legendary past and present soccer stars, such as Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Cristiano Ronaldo and even retired referee Pierluigi Collina.

“I wanted to choose the football players I had a relationship with,” Cavolo said. “It’s not about the best ones.

“If I can choose a gang [to hang out with], it’s these guys.”

Desbaillets, an owner of Pub Burgundy Lion in St-Henri, first met Cavolo approximately a year ago over a “few pints” and a televised soccer game. The pub, which is known for its prioritized soccer viewing, wanted to “grow the football [i.e. soccer] culture in the city,” and Desbaillets saw Cavolo as a perfect ally.

“[We wanted to] bring different cultures of art, sport and everyday life together,” said Desbaillets about the project. “It’s with you all the time, not just when you’re watching the game.”

Originally from Salamanca, Spain, Cavolo said he was “born in his father’s painting studio.” Cavolo said growing up he never had to ask himself the classic existential question, “What am I going to do with my life?”

This self-assurance led him to paint commissioned murals in cities around the world like Cologne, Hong Kong, Paris, Kiev, and Montreal, where he’d worked twice previously.

Cavolo is also known for working with “found” canvases, examples of which include the wooden frame of a broken mirror or a wooden cabinet with a slightly unhinged door.

Most notably from a soccer standpoint, Cavolo created a mural for FC Barcelona’s famous youth football academy La Masia and customized personal laptops for the first team, allowing him to meet his heroes like Messi, Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández.

“They were totally happy,” Cavolo said about the players when they received the gifts.

However, for Cavolo, witnessing a victory live in the stadium is more satisfying than a meet and greet with the players.

“I prefer to be in Camp Nou [Barcelona’s stadium],” he said. “I don’t need autographs like other fans.”

His artwork is often described as “Frida Kahlo-esque” in its use of “folk art tones.” For the soccer-themed pieces, he employed religious imagery to convey the devout passion fans have for the game.

“[The work] always related with their career or life,” Cavolo said. “[It is] like a religious tale.”

Cavolo began painting and designing for the show only two weeks before the vernissage. Because of his relationship with Desbaillets, he was able to combine his two lifelong passions in one project. As a personal bonus, he worked in a growing, soccer-loving city where many of his friends are from.

“Giving my little help and work—being in a city I have a nice connection with—it makes the project really good,” said Cavolo.

Known as the “beautiful game,” soccer has a wide-ranging aesthetic appeal among its fans. For the Spanish native, it’s not the crunching slide-tackle or the athleticism he finds most pleasing but the thought process behind the players’ decisions.

“Strategy,” Cavolo answered when asked about his favorite aspect of the game. “The brain working from the coach and the players [together].”

Gol, Carajo! will be on display at the Station 16 Gallery until Nov. 5th.

In an earlier version of this article, The Link posted that Gol, Carajo! would be on display at the Burgundy Lion until Nov. 5th, instead of Station 16. The Link regrets the error.