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Friday 23 May 2008

Mitchell's A to Z of Fetish Artists - Cavelo (revised 2015)


Cavelo might justly be described as the 'giant' of our 'C's. His work is highly regarded and there are plenty of examples in circulation on the web. His images depict a wide spectrum of bondage, torture and other fetish subjects in a variety of different settings. This military 'interrogation' by him is a good example. It succeeds in creating a genuine sense of struggle with a simple, easily comprehended torture mechanism (more severe than it seems at first sight if you take the sticks into account) and a pair of tormentors who are seen to be actively involved with their prisoner, not just standing and watching. By keeping them clothed in their military uniforms, Cavelo points out that they are agents of a powerful, impersonal and intransigent organisation and consequently the plight of the totally defenceless prisoner at their hands is quite hopeless. It's a theme that runs through his work.

There is only the faintest suggestion that these captors may be personally, sexually interested, via some interesting shapes in their camouflage, but you can see the 'rope puller' is more focussed on the reactions of the captive to his pain than the tenderised meat drawn up before him. His sight-line reinforces the downward slope of the captive's body and draws attention on the prisoner's face emphasising his distress and predicament. In a way this lessens the erotic impact of the picture, although there's no question that this is intended as erotica if you examine the sensuous treatment of the captive's subtly-engorged organs.

Cavelo's eroticism here is not so much 'hidden' as 'disguised' (click on the label below for other articles about hidden eroticism). This may simply reflect the censorship regime of it's time. In the 1980's restrictions were already beginning to collapse with changing attitudes to nudity and sex, but were also coming under further attack from publishers (like Drummer) who were trying to push the boundaries of S&M imagery as well. Playing down an explicit linkage between sadism and lust was perhaps offered as a quid pro quo. Or perhaps it is a reflection of Cavelo's own values, that the erotic is meant to be understated or not of primary importance,


This depiction of a mass punishment is an unusual and imaginative subject. Normally fetish images with multiple captives set out to show the variety of different strokes available for different folks. This is a far more focussed image and shows Cavelo's interest in the psychology of torture and not just the mechanics of it. The prisoners here are lined up to witness the punishment of their buddy but their clothing, prepared in identical fashion tells us unambiguously that they will be suffering exactly the same treatment themselves, when their turn comes (or have already depending how you read the picture). Cavelo uses the sardine-like crowding together of the prisoners to emphasis their powerlessness and unimportance as individuals. The extreme muscularity of their attacker underlines his total power over them.

Once again the erotic element of this picture is played down with a row of mostly flaccid organs, and to some extent the violence is too, with the current victim only partly visible at the edge of the picture as though to suggest that his punishment is only a contributory detail of the picture, not it's subject. Only he shows any arousal, but we do not know whether that is the cause of his punishment or a consequence of it.

Both these pictures come from a collection used for a story called 'Camp Alpha'. I don't have a copy of it but the pictures seem to have been assembled together rather than specifically drawn for the story line. The guards are seen wearing a variety of different military uniforms including modern fatigues, Nazi blacks, and Foreign Legion. The captives in the picture above don't seem to be wearing any uniform at all.

Cavelo has a distinctive approach to figure drawing which combines two contrasting styles. Naked parts of the body are drawn with complex, highly detailed, almost anatomical musculature, usually rendered in dark tones with carefully graduated shading and bright highlights. Clothed parts of the body are outlined and detailed with fine lines drawn with the economical precision of a well-trained graphic artist and these parts appear much lighter. As can be seen in the example above, this draws attention to the flesh and muscular definition and indeed this technique seems to be borrowed in part from the presentation practices of the Body Builders circuit, involving fake tans and baby oil. However, removed from this context it tends to make the prisoners look unnaturally dark-skinned and healthy.


This is a fairly well known spanking picture and remarkably powerful considering how little is actually going on. The impact flows from initially from the evident efforts of the tied up, young athlete to escape from his tethering and gagging, which is clearly as unexpected as it is unwelcome. The nature of his binding has a spontaneous, improvised quality that perfectly chimes with the implied situation of the coach finally running out of patience. As in the last picture the victim is only partly visible, in this picture the cut-off has the effect of assisting the perspective, bringing him closer to us. We can just see his tackle, slightly aroused, but again we don't know if that is a result of feeling the paddle, anticipating it or the cause of his punishment.

The dark shading of the coaches skin accentuates his prominent veins, indicative of exceptional lean muscularity, but in this image his skin is much darker than his trainee's and this somehow seems to appropriate to their difference in build and ages too. He contemplates his handiwork with obvious satisfaction and this time Cavelo offers several clues to his sexual state:- the part-opened jeans, the hand in pocket and carefully-positioned paddle. The slightly sinister sun-glasses make you wonder if this situation is less spontaneous than it appears.


Cavelo's interest in clothing goes beyond modern day dress and he indulges this in a lot of globe-trotting and historical scenarios which make for some spectacular imagery as in this scene set in a Japanese mansion or palace where a naked, muscular western captive is being beaten, watched by two notables whose rank is evidenced by the exaggerated shoulders of their 'kataginu' gowns and their swords. Cavelo uses cropping to further good effect here, enhancing the drama and sense of movement in the picture

The fine, delicate quality of Cavelo's outer detailing seems particularly appropriate for this Far Eastern scenario but I'm not sure the blocked-in central figure works that well considering he is the focus of the drawing in every respect. Cavelo's technique here doesn't communicate a great deal of clarity about what his body actually looks like - even allowing for the fact that he is upside down (which always causes visual confusion). The dark shading gives the skin a strange 'plastic' appearance and the broken patterning somehow breaks up and obscures the overall body shape - exactly like a camouflage pattern does - so there's not a lot to lust over other than his general predicament.

Technique aside, there's a powerful supplementary psychological overlay at work here in the meeting of two cultures where the Westerner who intrudes and offends is brutally punished like a common criminal despite the civilised sophistication and might of the nation which stands behind him.

There is an interesting resemblance too between this image and those of Tagame which is due in part to the setting of course, but the upside-down suspension and public beating is also typical of that artist's work. Not so the build of the victim which in truth is a little glamourised for the period portrayed.


This is not a very good quality image but I have included it for it's amazing drama, set this time in Indian Territory in North America where three cowboys have been readied for torture by Native American captors. Their naked suspension, stretched between two posts is pretty original, exposing them to attack as completely as it is possible to do. Raising them several feet clear of the ground emphasises their vulnerability even more, it also renders escape virtually impossible and creates a dramatic spectacle of their punishment.

The idea of grouping the three men closely together, two of them even sharing a post between them forces them to witness their companions suffering and anticipate their own. Cavelo has created overlapping patterns of out-flung limbs and upright posts which form a miniature arena in which the captors prowl wreaking revenge as they see fit. The sinuous curves of the trees chosen to make the posts with their stubs of cut off branches lend an air of desolation to the scene, like the remains of a forest ravaged by fire. It is all quite nightmarish. There's an ironic echo of those terrible uprights in the majestic pillars of the beautiful but bleak wilderness around them, it is a brilliant, artistic embellishment, a touch of class.


Cavelo has borrowed his concept here from the pulp literature illustration above, but has made significant alterations which elevate an already great concept to a higher level and it is superbly realised. I would dearly like to present a better reproduction here - any offers?


In this Western scene there's a much more direct contact between the captor and prisoner. A great deal of the drama comes from the impressive frame Cavelo has constructed to restrain the cowboy and he really looks as if he is hanging from it and suffering some discomfort from the tugging on his genitals too. The provision of a foot bar for him to stand on allows his body to arch forward erotically but seems improbable and over-staged. Cavelo's characterisation of the native Americans is a bit glossy, too, they look altogether too pretty and well dressed which diminishes their menace considerably. 

The clinical precision of his technique is visually gratifying, it's a very attractive picture but it doesn't really do full justice to the gravity of the situation depicted. This is quite a good example of the plasticising effect of the body shading, I guess you either like it or you don't. There is a good balance however between the foreground and the lighter background and the texturing of the tee-pees is very stylish.


One of Cavelo's most notable works is the set of about 50 illustrations he did for a Zeus comic book based loosely around the myth of the labours of Hercules and recounting a supposed 9th labour to obtain the loincloth of the King of the Manazons. The image above shows one of the many ordeals Hercules has to undergo and there are other very imaginative and well drawn episodes. In fact it works better as a set than as individual drawings. In this example you can see straight away that Cavelo ha
s trimmed the detail to suit the publishing requirements but there's also a sense in which the image on it's own is somehow lacking in context. The head of the King in the foreground, the character jerking off in the background, both seem significant but we can't really tell from the picture what exactly is going on. It's the text and the flow of the other pictures that makes it all clear of course.

In this example Cavelo's distinctive style (for me) overpowers his subject matter. Hercules is shown with very dark skin colouring, focussing our attention on him, but the shading is so dense that it brings the figure forward visually and detaches it from the rest of the composition. The other lightly sketched figures to the side are visually pushed aside and the sense of them standing around Hercules watching him suffer is lost. It doesn't help that Hercules is looking at us not them. Fortunately our brains are able to use the relative figure sizes to redress the balance once the scene has been fully taken in.

It could justifiably be counter-argued that this artistic treatment elevates Hercules out of the mundane brutality of his torture and into a god-like detachment along the lines of traditional depictions of Christian martyrdom. That's OK, but for me it leaves a nagging impression of the picture being unfinished.


There's certainly no attempt here to airbrush away the suffering of the captive in his plight. This young soldier has an attraction that is not fixed in the era of the Vietnam War as defined by the glimpse of his captor, but spans the decades to the present day (paradoxically reminding us that perceptions of barbaric cruelty in our opponents are nothing new - see also my A-Z articles on The Hun and JAD).

This detail shows Cavelo's strengths as an illustrator, the ability to to depict a handsome, characterful and very expressive,face in a few economical lines is a rare accomplishment. Notice the outrageously simple rendering of the ear for example. The complex contours of the side of the cheeks and neck are deftly captured with subtle blocks of shading and with this treatment it retains it's unity and graceful shaping. By contrast, the sharp delineation of muscles in the man's torso and particularly in the upraised, nearer arm don't convey the same sense of unity, volume or shape.


This image has a similar degree of conviction, expressing the extremity of the torture by the contortions of the captive's body this time rather than his face. The sentiment is rammed home by the seeming indifference of everyone witnessing it, including his fellow prisoner in the background.

This prisoner is adorned with body hair suggesting added maturity and strength. It underlines his helpless humiliation, forced to bow his head to a young zealot of different persuasions. There's clearly a sexual dimension to his humbling too, but it is expressed in the most indirect manner - by his open mouth and his kneeling position between the open legs of his captor - whose depiction I fancy is also showing a hint of arousal via the shaping of his rolled back sleeve. Hidden eroticism doesn't come much cleverer than this (click label below for other examples).


My final example is of another of Cavelo's recurring themes, The Inquisition. Historical dramas have traditionally made a good disguise for homo-erotic S&M, but the Inquisition had a unique reputation for the single-minded pursuit of recantation and conversion through unspeakable cruelty. It's proponents targeted specific individuals (rather than representatives of a race or an army as was the case in the images above) making their attentions all the more terrifying for the isolated victim. Any imagery showing the Inquisition thus automatically acquires an aura of horrific anticipation and fearfulness.

Cavelo captures that sense of terror in the victim rather well and surrounds him with a gang of gleeful, sadistic persecutors awaiting their turn and a couple of calculating priests directing operations. They are all equally indifferent to his humanity and all directed and authorised by faceless, distant law makers who cannot be appealed to directly or persuaded. With the physical torture removed, this is a scenario most of my readers will relate to quite strongly I imagine. It does not help our victim that his tormentors are enviably masculine and erotically gleaming with the sweat of their exertions for - as in the previous image - there are clearly sexual motivations at work here. These are expressed most obviously by the captive's forced open legs and the tethering of his private parts for some punishment undefined, but perhaps related to the fiery basket in the foreground.

More subtly, the captive's right hand seems to be reaching behind in the general direction of one of his tormentors attractively packaged groin, as though seeking to win him over in the traditional way of gay men. However the cylindrical object offered up to his grasp is not a comforting physical appendage but a burning candle intended to punish that hand for it's sinful gropings.

There's another interesting detail on his other side where one of the Priests is reaching out to touch the captive's body. Judging by the point of contact these pair might perhaps be discussing the stigmata of Christ and it's theological relevance when selecting points of torture for the wretched victim. Or perhaps it's just a hypocritical, comforting hand. Then again it might simply represent a Priest's furtive, salacious enjoyment of the trembling and convulsing of his doomed victim's naked body.

For me historical imagery tends to lack immediacy and modern relevance, which I regard as a pre-requisite if erotica is to work it's dark magic on us. It's hard to get worked up about someone who would have lived and died centuries back. This example is more ambiguous than some since the costumes we can see are equally appropriate to modern times. You can also re-imagine the scene as a modern day film set where the actor playing the captive is the only one who didn't know that the director was aiming at extreme realism for torture and subsequent scenes. For this 'Stephen King' reading of the image, any lapses in historical realism are unimportant, in fact they are advantageous, serving to convey the frightening, underlying reality.

Cavelo's heyday was circa 1978-85 when a good deal of his work was published by Zeus and Drummer. I believe he was still producing stuff quite recently through his fan club (see below) but he doesn't have a very visible, organised web presence (see The Mystery of Cavelo)

(Note: This article was completely rewritten in Nov 2015)
There's an interesting biographical note on Cavelo at Boomer's beefcake and bonding (!)

Cavelo used to have a fans group on Yahoo but that's gone now.
Any information on it's whereabouts would be welcome.

Click on the A-Z label below for more articles in this series
or you can consult my index page (tab at top) or use the search options here.


Anonymous said...

I posted a Cavelo diptych about soldiers from a 1980s Drummer magazine at my tumblr site if you interested. These should be new to you. My site is:

Anonymous said...

Now I've set up a secondary site where I've posted over thirty Cavelo illustration that I scanned in the past. You can find it at:

Anonymous said...

beautifull the tortures the indians are so horny the need to use the prizes