Artist Victor Castillo Discusses His Adorably Dark Works
"Both things influence my life and my work: disappointment and optimism."
LA-based Chilean artist Victor Castillo is a storyteller. His vibe? Deeply-rooted, sociopolitical outrages. The subjects of his narrative? Whimsical characters, cartoons and colorful creations adorned with vaudevillian minstrel gloves and unsettling, mask-like faces. We caught up with Victor to discuss his adorably dark works.
Los Angeles, Cali.
Pixel or Pencil?
Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings?
Lord of the Rings.
Favorite Looney Tunes Character?
Favorite color(s) to work with?
Phthalo Blue, Turquois, and Raw Umber.
Your work tends to blend whimsy with dread, combining a lighthearted style with a darker theme. Would you say that you lean more toward pessimism or optimism in the real world?
Both things influence my life and my work: disappointment and optimism. There’s anger but also humor. I’d like to remove, even just a little bit, the blindfold that society puts over our eyes.
You’re a fan of the works of Goya. Which of his pieces is a favorite of yours?
So many, all of them: El aquelarre, Saturno devorando a su hijo, Perro semihundido, Duelo a garrotazos, Atropos, El entierro de la sardina, the series ‘Los caprichos,’ ‘Los desastres de la guerra,’ and above all, ‘Las pinturas negras.’
What are some themes you continue to use in your work, whether consciously orsubconsciously?
Abuse of power, hope, egotism, the illusion of the capitalist dream, education, racism, love, militarism, rebellion … among other traumas.
Being that your work is often in reference to animation and also tends to tell a story and include some inherent motion to it, have you ever or would you ever consider making an animated piece?
Absolutely! Actually at the last Pictoplasma festival in Berlin in 2018 I debuted an animated short film called ‘Hollywood Dreams,’ based on my work and life in Los Angeles. It’s a fantastic project realized by LOICA studio in Santiago, where I was able to see my paintings in motion for the first time, like a dream come true. The idea is to continue making animations and shorts.
Was there ever a moment where it felt like you finally ‘found’ your style or a moment where it felt like something clicked?
There have been many key moments, like when they kicked me out of art school, and then I knew I was an artist. Or when I found out that ironically they were teaching my paintings in some art schools. On a professional level, it was with my exhibition ‘Explicit Lyrics’ at the Iguapopo Gallery in Barcelona in 2007 that I was able to affirm my personal style on one side, and to confirm that people liked it on the other; that it had a good reception. The Spanish national newspaper El País published a full-page article about the show, and since then interesting things haven’t stopped happening.
Your art and style references so many things from comics, cartoons, classical art and much more. Are there any specific things that readers should find to better understand your work?
I grew up under the influence of pop culture, TV and especially the culture being imposed on us from the U.S. I was amazed with classic animations like Merry Melodies, Looney Tunes, Silly Symphonies, Disney, Hollywood, video games, comics … But later came a terrible disappointment when I discovered that behind the horrible dictatorship that I lived with all my childhood, was the blatant intervention of the USA. We were being colonized. So what happens when your only references turn against you? What I aim to do in that case is to twist the references to revert the messages. I recommend reading the essay ‘How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic’ by Ariel Dorfman.
Any major influences or mentors that helped you in the journey?
So many big influences: my family, the political context, the rage I felt, counterculture literature, and most of all, movies and music have always been a big influence. I admire all the artists who have influenced me that I don’t know who to call out: Coré, Henry Darger, Robert Crumb, David Bowie, Paul McCarthy, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Brian Eno, Kerry James Marshall, Federico Fellini, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Peter Greenaway, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Eduardo Galeano, Bach, Jim Jarmush, Tom Waits, David Lynch, etc etc. In any case, nothing has influenced my way of seeing painting as much as my first visit to the Prado museum in Madrid.
If you were teaching an art class to adults, what life advice would you give them?
First you must enjoy the work of making art for yourself — it’s a muscle, and forget about being accepted or being the best. The recognition comes on top when you do it well. Authentic and original are synonymous. I say be careful with art schools; they are dangerous for originality.
Upcoming shows or projects?
I’m showing at the Urbanity Art Fair in Madrid, and I have a solo show at Adda & Taxie in Paris in April. I’m looking forward to a group show at Red Truck Gallery in New Orleans and the Contemporary Istanbul art fair in Turkey in between other projects in the USA, Europe and Chile this year.
My wife Ethel Seno and I are starting a design business as Los Mañosos — which means the picky ones — for graphics and artist merchandise.