On a recent afternoon, Victor Castillo was inside Merry Karnowsky Gallery putting the finishing touches on "Pure Pleasure," which was set to open soon. A few finished works lay up against a wall, waiting to be hanged. In one, a young woman arches her bare back and stretches her arms in a rise-and-shine pose. She is in a forest, surrounded foliage, fluttery insects and a few hot dog-shaped characters with wings. It is black and white. The black is courtesy of an ink used primarily by Japanese comic book artists. It is a beautiful, opaque ink. Castillo explains that, with other inks, there's the chance to get shades of gray in the mix. "This is just pure black," he says. "All the background is white, including the frames. To make this big contrast." The white is from the paper that served as Castillo's canvases for this series of paintings. It is a marked departure from the artist's previous work.
Usually, Castillo works with color, typically in the form of acrylic paint. His paintings appeared in deep shades of blue and green and bold sunset hues. His characters were frequently children, placed in satirical situations that commented on issues like greed and environmental destruction. "Pure Pleasure" is a respite from the themes that so frequently appear in Castillo's paintings. "It's a break of how bad it is in the world, how bad is the future," he says. "I don't want to be sad or worried all the time."
We're chatting in an upstairs area of Graffiti Cafe, next door to the gallery. Behind Castillo are two statues that he designed for a previous exhibition. There's a girl and a boy done in the style for which he is noted. They appear like the illustrated characters in children's books, all big eyes and wide smiles with hair styles and clothing that hark back to the 1950s. The key difference is that their noses are long and bright red. The nose has become of Castillo signatures. In his paintings, it gives the impression that the characters are wearing masks, that the innocence of the childlike images is just a facade. Here, though, the two figures stand alone and appear fairly innocuous. They stand open to interpretation. These large fiberglass figures helped push Castillo towards his next project. He's about to begin work on his first two designer toys.
Castillo has only lived in L.A. for three years, but the city has impacted him greatly. "The last three years changed my career a lot as an artist," he says. He mentions that there are more materials available for him in Los Angeles and more space in which to work. "More options," he says. "I think L.A. is the right place for me now."
Ultimately, his current home base has been an influence on Castillo throughout his career. Raised in Santiago, Chile, Castillo was heavily influenced by animation. Primarily, his interest leaned towards the classics, Looney Tunes and Disney amongst them. You can see that in the surreal wit of Castillo's images. He's a fan of "The Simpsons" too and has an appreciation for the mix of humor and politics in the long-running animated series.
It's not just L.A.'s history of animation that has played a role in Castillo's development as an artist. The region's homegrown art stars are also an influence. In his early years, Castillo admired the work of people like Gary Baseman and Tim Biskup through the glow of the computer screen. "Now I have the opportunity to show with many of my heroes, artists who are heroes," he says.
Castillo, who spent several years in Barcelona before moving to Los Angeles, is a perfect fit for the city's thriving pop surrealism art scene. His pieces are, at times, as whimsical as they are disturbing. Castillo mentions an earlier work called "Employee of the Month." In it a male character appears like a child playing an adult, grins. The ground is covered with garbage. Huge plumes of smoke rise from the buildings behind him. Yet, his face and prominent red nose glow amidst the dark surroundings. "He's so happy because he's the employee of the month," says Castillo.
With "Pure Pleasure", Castillo moves away from that commentary, but his work is no less thought-provoking. There's more than just a change in message going on here, though. With black-and-white, the focus falls on the essential designs that comprise characters and backgrounds that Castillo creates. "With color, you have more information and you cannot see the drawing and my hands," he says.
Castillo is simplifying his work in this show, a reaction against the bombardment of information, both in his work and in the outside world. "It's more about too much information in my painting and too much information about what's happening around us," he says. "It's a real break in many ways. For my hands. For color, For political ideas."
Of course, there's more to Castillo's work than what immediate makes an impact on a gallery wall. "It's never simple," he says. "There are always different layers. It's my instinct as an artist. I need to talk about human feelings."
All images courtesy of Victor Castillo.
Top Image: "Dancing Days," ink on paper.
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