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Tato Caraveo: In His Own Words
Aug, 10, 2021
Tato Caraveo: In His Own Words
If you frequent downtown Phoenix, you’ve most likely seen a mural (or many) by local artist Tato Caraveo. His colorful, large-scale scenes depicting elongated figures are distinct, characterized by surreal settings and proportions that are simultaneously whimsical, humorous, and a little bit dark—if not foreboding. Also a dedicated musician who’s played in numerous bands since his youth, Caraveo typically finds ways to infuse musical elements and instruments into his work, yet another defining aspect of his compelling compositions.
In addition to the outdoor exhibition of his murals, Tato has displayed his paintings in galleries across the city, including Pop Up Toast Gallery. We recently spoke with the muralist/musician to learn about his first inspirations, his continual evolution as an artist, and upcoming opportunities to view his newest creations.
Here’s Tato Caraveo, in his own words.
“My aesthetic is whimsical and colorful. I always envision how I can bring a wall or canvas to life by playing with perspective and depth to expand our reality.”
Tato Caraveo, TeddyRoosevelt, 2019. Acrylic. Courtesy of the artist.
PhxArt: Tell us about where you’re from and when you first knew you wanted to be an artist.
Tato Caraveo: I grew up in South Phoenix, and while both my parents worked, they were also artists. My father was a musician, and my mother was a painter, so music and art have been a part of my life since I was young.
As a youth, that translated into playing in a punk band and painting graffiti. People think of graffiti often in a bad light, but as a kid, I was inspired by the artists who were older than me. I liked seeing how they expressed themselves and motivated kids to put their differences aside and paint together. The owner of Planet Earth (which used to be located on Roosevelt and 3rd Street) came to me and my friend Danny when we were in high school and asked us to paint his building. Every day after school for a few years, we would paint there until it became a go-to spot for graffiti artists from all over the Valley and the state. That was my first mural, and I haven’t stopped painting since.
PhxArt: What are the media that you prefer to work in, and how would you describe your aesthetic?
Caraveo: I love working in every medium. I used to blow glass and work with ceramics but found painting, whether with spray paint or oils, indoors or outside, to be very meditative.
My aesthetic is whimsical and colorful. I always envision how I can bring a wall or canvas to life by playing with perspective and depth to expand our reality.
Tato Caraveo, Transplant, 2016. Acrylic. Courtesy of the artist.
PhxArt: Do you have any recurring characters in your murals? How do you decide on a subject for a piece, and where do you draw inspiration from?
Caraveo: I do have a couple of murals that would be considered to carry a story line within them. My decision-making process for each work’s subject matter is based on the dimensions of the wall where the mural will go or which style I’ll apply to the surface. I usually do three concepts and see which one I like best. Most of my inspiration comes from my imagination.
PhxArt: Is there a particular mural you’ve created that was perhaps more difficult than others to work on from conception to completed product? If so, what made it challenging?
Caraveo: Each mural comes with its challenges. I would say the more challenging ones are the ones that are figurative because I have to get the proportions correct.
Tato Caraveo, Piano proposal, 2019. Acrylic. Courtesy of the artist.
PhxArt: What is something about your process that might surprise viewers?
Caraveo: I am always grateful when people tell me they saw a mural and knew it was my work, but I especially love when people tell me they saw a mural and were surprised it was my work. I like to paint a diverse range of styles and keep people surprised. I like to mix my whimsical, surreal characters with realism and abstract work.
PhxArt: Who are your greatest artistic influences?
Caraveo: When I was in my early 20s, I started to discover artists that weren’t in school curriculum, especially the female artists of the Surrealist movement. Artists such as Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, and Leonor Fini have continued to be a huge influence on my work. Their paintings weren’t concerned with aesthetics but were rather expressions of their imagination that weren’t limited to the flat surface of the canvas. They inspired me to blend myself as a musician into my work as an artist. But I am truly inspired by all artists—old and young, experienced and new. I love to see different creative styles and am constantly challenging myself to explore new techniques.
Tato Caraveo, my friend Juini Booth, 2018. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.
PhxArt: What are some works, series, or projects you’re currently working on or have recently exhibited?
Caraveo: During the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve had a lot of time to paint in my studio, which I enjoyed. I recently had a solo show at Pop Up Toast Gallery in downtown Phoenix. All the work is also “displayed” on my website for anyone who couldn’t make it to the gallery. I will be having another solo show there in the fall, and next spring, while the weather is nice, I will be busy painting a handful of new murals around the state, including a residential building, a restaurant, a bar, and some private commissions. I also had the honor of being selected for the fall 2020 Valley Metro Arts Line Artist Series, which included my art on a Light Rail car and the substation on Roosevelt.
Tato Caraveo, Malcolm X, 2021. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.
PhxArt: What can our community expect to see next from you?
Caraveo: I am very excited about an upcoming show at Phoenix Sky Harbor this fall. It’s a great excuse for me to get back into the studio and paint large-scale canvas because of the space in their gallery. Also, my latest large-scale mural was just completed in mid-May on a six-story building for Pearl Biltmore. It was my largest to date and includes a Frank Lloyd Wright house set against Camelback Mountain.
Tato Caraveo, self portrait, 2020. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.
We’re curious how creatives are navigating the time of coronavirus. Tato Caraveo shares what’s giving him life during the pandemic.
Caraveo: I am currently reading Words Without Music, the memoir of Philip Glass. His story has motivated me to continue to craft my skills as an artist and musician. COVID-19 has given me a lot of uninterrupted time to paint in my studio. I am constantly watching tutorials and practicing new techniques. I have been exploring the beauty of light and color more and more. Being in my studio, I can set up still life and my lights to photograph reference shots.
Tato Caraveo, magnolias, 2020. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.