The Great Meld of Art and Sport

When you mention football in Europe, you set yourself up for a conversation about the sport played with a blackand-white ball, instead of the one most North Americans are more familiar with. While football-soccer terminology difference is pretty common knowledge, a less-known part of the game is the common ground it shares with art. In this new unique fusion of cultures, Montreal’s The Burgundy Lion pub and gallery Station 16 launched Gol, Carajo!, a solo exhibition from Spanish artist Ricardo Cavolo centred completely around the sport.

The connection between soccer and art may seem distant, but after a secondary look, art has an implicit presence in soccer—and other sports for that matter. Everything from the club logos to the face-painted fans have elements of art and design. Paul Desbaillets, owner of The Burgundy Lion, discussed how that idea shaped the exhibit.

“[It’s about] the sport of football, [but] not just about the game, the 90 minutes, and the player,” said Desbaillets. “[It’s] really about the culture and everything that it means. So that means fashion and art [….] If you are a football fan you carry your scarf, you carry your colors.”

Desbaillets had a particular vision for the project and was looking for the perfect collaborator. After approaching Station 16 about collaborating with a potential artist, Cavolo—a known soccer fanboy who had the opportunity to paint a mural for his favourite team, FC Barcelona—was the clear choice for the project.

“Even in Europe, you can’t find the connection between art and football,” said Cavolo. “It’s rare. People disconnect them.”

However, for the artist, the relationship between the art and the sport is fluid.

“My thing is art—it’s painting,” explained Cavolo. “I was born in my father’s painting studio, so I’ve always been in this world. And if I couldn’t become an artist, I would have done something with football.”

Cavolo seamlessly took to working with portraits and was naturally inclined to paint portraits of soccer players.

“I enjoy working with portraits,” he said. “I just wanted to choose players that I really like; I enjoy how they play, how they are out from the stadium.”

The symbolism of tattoos is another driving force in visually translating the story of Ricardo Cavolo’s favourite footballers.

“[The] intention is to give more information about the guys,” explained Cavolo. “I used the tattoos to give you information, it is not about a fashion choice—it’s a code.” 

It is a code in the same way Eastern European criminals document their criminal history on their bodies using tattoos. Pointing out his favorite piece—triptych painted on found-wood inspired by Swedish soccer player Zlatan Ibrahmovic—Cavolo explained the symbolism behind the emerging dragon found in the work.

“He was raised in a dangerous ghetto in Sweden and he became a true fighter in the stadium,” he said. “To me, he is a kind of Batman—a dark hero.”

A true artist and soccer fan to the core, Ricardo Cavolo, along with his collaborators at Burgundy Lion and Station 16, helped highlight the intertwined worlds of art and sports. In Montreal, we have started to see a budding partnership between the two. Take, for example, the recent mural at the Montreal Canadiens HQ which was produced in a collaborative partnership with Montreal-based artist Eric Clement and LNDMRK, the team that created the city’s MURAL festival. Art and sports aren’t as much of an odd couple as they initially appear to be, and hopefully their marriage is one that we see more of in Montreal. 

Gol Carajo! runs until Nov. 5 at Station 16 (3523 St. Laurent).

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