A brief bio of Seňor Cao reveals that he was born in the North-East of Spain (Galicia) in December 1862. He showed a precocious talent for drawing, and from a very early age put his artistic talents to use in a decorative ceramics factory, where he learned to sculpt with Jose Lopez, making altarpieces.
In 1886 he emigrated from Galicia to Argentina, like so many of his compatriots who could not make a living from the land and who set their sights on the chance of adventure in the Americas.
Arriving dirt poor in Argentina he made his living as a quick sketch artist and portraitist on the Paseo Colon in Buenos Aires.
After working as an engraver, Cao took a job as an art master in a school from which base he was able to freelance for several magazines, and in 1887 he worked alongside the Madrileno Eduardo Sojo on a satirical magazine called Don Quixote that got them both into deep political trouble (If I’m translating the text on this page correctly.)
Argentina was going through political turmoil at the time, and despite working under synonyms, someone made an attempt to assassinate Cao because of a caricature he’d drawn of General Capdevila. A public scandal erupted when Cao and his colleague Sojo were both imprisoned for eight days before being released by General Roca. The dissenting magazine was shut down by the government.
“Caras y Caretas” and “Fray Mucho” were two Argentinian political magazines for which Cao was a regular contributor.
Download the catalogue, and contemplate the abilities that Cao must have gained from his early adventures with kinesthetic three dimensional sculpting, and how that has fed into his amazing skills in two dimensional drawing.
Myself, I’m deeply impressed by Cao’s work, and I’d personally love to see these solid little figure drawings transcribed into 3D animated figures – they have such convincing volume and presence.
Jose Maria Cao died in 1918 aged 55, in Lanus, Buenos Aires.
Just a quick editorial note to say that I couldn’t suppress my instinctive and immediate impulse to enhance the original illustrations, (most of them were horribly brown with age), which means that you will be looking at images that have been tweaked and interpreted by me in this post.
If you object to my tampering with scans of original artwork, please download the Acrobat PDF file from the show of Cao’s work that was exhibited earlier this year in Argentina, and study the originals. It contains dozens upon dozens of fabulous drawings that I couldn’t possibly fit into one post, “improved” or not. So download it anyway!
My reasoning is that I’d like to get as close as possible to the originals, and seeing these amazing pictures through a veil of brown haze isn’t satisfactory.
An appreciative nod to Oscar Grillo for introducing me to Cao’s work.