A San Francisco-based artist explores new themes in his most recent series and discusses his search for identity.
For Carlo Ricafort, the world around him is his greatest source of inspiration. His most recent series was sparked by a single radio segment about Stoicism—a Greek philosophy related to overcoming destructive emotion. Carlo’s series centers around the themes of death and change. Sometimes, he says, death is necessary to produce transformation.
Current political divisions also impact Carlo’s inclination to expressing anxiety in his paintings. He is concerned about the violent regime in his home country, the Philippines, as well as violence in his adopted country:
“Where is America going now? Will it need to die to re-invent itself?”
Carlo’s work also explores the process of decolonization within himself. He and his family immigrated from the Philippines to the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1980s. His transition was difficult at times: Carlo recalls losing many friends from back home and being mocked for his speech. The US held influence in the Philippines for over 50 years, so Carlo spoke English, but his pronunciation of certain words was different. “People would make fun of me, and not just white Americans,” he notes.
He reflects on the relevance of polyculturalism, which he feels is a more all-encompassing approach to culture. Representations of identity in the States can often feel black and white: “People in-between polarities become lost.”
The process of decolonization is complex—the Philippines, after all, was colonized by the Spanish, who maintained control for over 300 years. Carlo feels closely tied to the Latin community because of their shared history of Spanish colonization. In 2015, he was featured in an exhibition in Guanabacoa, Cuba. He describes the experience of traveling to the island as eye-opening. Having recently returned from living abroad in Cuba for several months, Carlo and I talk at length about Cuban politics and culture. It’s clear change is happening, but Carlo wonders:
“Who is the change for? It’s mostly for tourists.”
Now, San Francisco is home to him, and he has made his mark by co-founding the Random Parts art gallery in Oakland in 2014. He states that his goal in founding the gallery was to generate dialogue. So far, the gallery is doing well, but Carlo notes it’s difficult to afford rent in San Francisco, and he fears not being able to continue producing his own art due to financial constraints.
However, the artistic community gives him a great deal of strength:
“The more I get into my practice, the more I have allowed myself to take it more seriously.”
Artists uniting around one another is also a wonderful way to communicate about overlapping obstacles and interests. Through his exposure to art, Carlo met one of his greatest inspirations, a Chicano professor at San José State University, Rupert Garcia.
“Rupert Garcia was inspired by being a Mexican-American, but he was not limited by it.”
Carlo says this example helped him grapple with his own identity.
For now, Carlo will continue to paint and be influenced by current events, music and more. He’s even been inspired by hip-hop and jazz.
Moral of the story?
Next time you are listening to a podcast or reading a book, pay attention. It may lead you to color your blank canvas.