These tattooed portraits will make you do a double (or triple) take

Explore the explosively colourful tattooed portraits of Ricardo Cavolo, the artist behind Kaytranada's 99.9% cover art.

Explore the explosively colourful art of Ricardo Cavolo, the illustrator behind Kaytranada's 99.9% cover

Montreal musician Kaytranada reached out to illustrator Ricardo Cavolo to create the album art for 99.9%. (XL/Ricardo Cavolo)

Name: Ricardo Cavolo

Handle: @ricardocavolo

Whether we're talking about rock gods or Russian prisoners, as Ricardo Cavolo tells CBC Arts, he's drawn portraits of outsiders for as long as he can remember – "different, non-standard people, he says" – people who are unusual or extraordinary.

You know some of his subjects well. Icons of art or music such as Frida Kahlo…




Johnny Cash…


And some subjects are totally anonymous, but it's still clear that they're special — as clear as the six eyes on their face.

Nearly every person Cavolo paints — and every animal, too, for that matter— can see double (or triple) thanks to extra sets of eyes.


It's a signature of sorts, and it's also symbolic of just how extraordinary his subjects are.  Says the artist, writing from his home studio in Barcelona: "One of the ways to let you know that person is not 'normal' is [he] has more eyes than usual."

In murals found around the world, Cavolo's portraits gaze down on Moscow, Madrid and Montreal, and he's created album art for Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and, most recently, Kaytranada, who asked the artist to bring his bio to life for the cover of of 99.9%, the debut album which arrived to acclaim last month.

Depicted with six all-seeing eyes, the Montreal producer is surrounded by a flurry of flash-tattoo symbols — palm trees, airplanes, constellations of stars and passionate flames.


"I love (and need) music, and I respect it," Cavolo writes. "So, as I can't play music, I try to give my love for it with my art. And I assume people feel that love when I draw something about [it]."

Everything he paints, though, regardless of the subject matter, explodes with the colour of a folk-artist's palette. And inside each face is a saga — stories told through tiny drawings "tattooed" on cheeks and foreheads and chins.


Portraits are "the best way to speak about everything," Cavolo writes. "Even if I want to talk about a country, I will use a face to speak about the land. The portrait is a code everybody knows how to read, so I use it and I permit myself to fill it with dozens of details and symbols and it is still readable."


A new book of his portraits — "a sort of illustrated encyclopedia about the outsiders on our planet" — is in the works, Cavolo says, and if you follow him on Instagram, you can watch his progress on the project, which is tentatively titled Periferias


"The portrait is powerful for everybody," Cavolo says of his favourite form. "You are staring at someone who usually is also looking at you." It's an intimate dialogue, he says. Just you and the art you and the art, face to face — and eye to eye to eye to eye.


Social media can be so much more than selfies and viral videos — it's increasingly becoming a scratch pad for emerging artists and other creative minds to show off their latest work. Artstagram curates the best visual talent on Instagram, helping bring a little more art into your daily feed.​