By JANIS HASHE August, 2019
The artist who prefers to be known simply as “El Cavo” found the bold, brash colors of the ’80s mesmerizing. Growing up near Pittsburgh, PA, he was in his early teens when the graffiti/street art movement began to spread across the US and the world.
“I drew all the time as a kid, and carried a notebook around with me. The ideas got bigger and bigger,” he says.
By his late teens, he’d visited Manhattan’s Lower East Side and been even more drawn in, as he absorbed the work of people like Jean-Michel Basquiat. He began using old, vacant spaces and bridges to create his own pictures and murals.
But, later, his experience at university as a fine arts student was mostly one of frustration. “It was my first immersion into the ‘art world,’ and I was not impressed,” he says. Yet there were a couple of positives: He learned how to paint on canvas, which he still does today, and he made good use of his studio time, where he started to evolve his techniques. Combining symbols, words, and abstract designs into vivid, compelling images, El Cavo developed his process to create work that depicts powerful, vital messages.
Ideas, he says, can come from anywhere — a picture, an advertisement, a dream. “I mold it in my mind for a few days before starting to paint,” he says. Like many artists, he often has several paintings in progress at once. He uses enamel house paints, spray paints and oil pastels in combination, occasionally including classic oil paints as well, painting and then overpainting, often coming back to his large canvases as many as five times. He admits, “The hardest thing for me about painting is knowing when to stop.”
His life has taken him all over the world, including more than a dozen deployments to countries dealing with the war on terror. But art continued to call him. Five years ago, he moved to Las Vegas, not necessarily intending to stay. “I had a great job opportunity, which took me out here, but then I saw that the city is booming. I’ve fallen in love with it,” he says.
El Cavo’s upcoming exhibition, Signs of the Times: Observing Modern America, will open on October 5th, 2019 at Las Vegas’s Waterhole Kingdom, and will run through October 19th. The exhibition will feature 30 new paintings. El Cavo found his work “taking a turn,” a couple of years ago, and he began to incorporate figures holding signs, such as in pieces entitled “Eat the Rich” and “Save the Humans.” He’s fascinated with the idea that everyone is now bombarded by so much information that it’s increasingly difficult to know what to prioritize — or even, what is actually true. He explores this idea in a work called “The News,” in which a somewhat human figure is being overwhelmed by media, which seems to be turning the figure into something no longer human. In “Propaganda,” the human part of a centaur wears a suit jacket and a Prussian-like spiked helmet against a background of swirling shapes and symbols.
He’d become aware of this media encroachment as far back as the ’80s.
“Advertising campaigns became very loud and aggressive. Everything became an ad.” He recalls watching an ad for the Commodore computer Amiga 1000 that featured Andy Warhol, and remembers learning that Warhol was one of the first artists to create work on a computer.
“Signs of the Times” will also include several found-art sculptures. El Cavo describes one of them as combining “a mannequin, a clawfoot bathtub, and pill bottles.”
Despite dealing with themes such as threats to the environment, the marginalization of the poor, and the erosion of the American dream in his work, El Cavo does not want to be seen as a “political artist.” He notes that he belongs to no political party and has no specific agenda.
“I hate the idea that the viewer is being asked to do anything,” he says. “I comment on what I see, but it’s from a socio-humane perspective.” In other words, he believes art can effectively reflect society without becoming overtly political.
Still, although he admires painters such as Jackson Pollock, whose work he sees as “being about painting,” he does acknowledge that his work contains “something greater than the effect of the art itself.”
In “Signs of the Times: Observing Modern America,” he’ll make his most targeted and poignant observations yet — and let the observers take away from it what they will.
For more information about El Cavo and Signs of the Times: Observing Modern America visit www.elcavo.com.
Signs of the Times: Observing Modern America by El Cavo
October 5th, 2019 through October 19th, 2019
Opening Reception October 5th, 2019, 7pm
920 South Commerce Street,
Las Vegas, NV 89106