Mario Castillo has created this series as a symbolic gesture to one of nature’s most fantastic species, our feathered friends; the birds.
With this series, Mario Castillo also pays tribute to the fact that the center of the Aztec empire had magnificent aviary “parks” where a great number of diversified species of exotic aves were kept for their plumage. The ancient Mexica people adored colorful feathers which they used to adorn themselves with. Please refer to following link from The Museum of Ethnology Vienna to see feathered headdress
Artists would also take feathers of bright hues and use them as “paint” to create extraordinary works of art. See feather artwork
at Cal State LA site.
Birds formed part of the economy in Pre-Conquest times. The trade of feathers created a market for skilled aviculturists, who specialized in rearing birds which were brought in from many different regions and far away places.
In general, birds symbolize flight and freedom. Throughout history the flight of these creatures has captured mankind’s imagination interweaving itself into the mythology of world cultures from the ancient Egyptian and Greek cultures to the Pre-Columbian. To add to this allure, modern science tells us that birds are descendants from the awe inspiring dinosaurs!
For Mario Castillo this body of work also represents the fanciful dream of flight that we all cherish as children when we first learn to take flight with our imagination. Castillo recalls that as a child, he had vivid dreams of flying and gliding with his arms stretched out like wings, swooping over the street in front of his house in the little town of Villa Union, Coahuila, Mexico. This flying experience was so real, that Castillo at times wonders if this was some form of “astral projection”, an out-of-body experience or some form of primal “dreamtime”. This could be a probability, because before they get fully conditioned and indoctrinated into the molding modes of society, children seem to rely often on altered realities and other realms of make-believe reality (which to them is just as real). Because of this, children have a more direct connection to the subconscious and their soul. Ancient philosophies tell us that the soul goes out of the body during sleep. That it is not bound to the physical body all of the time. This would tend to explain the real nightmarish dreams we all have as children. It is well documented that the sense of flying in a dream is a common experience that many children have. It seems to be programmed into our psyche. To read more on children’s dreams related to out-of-body experiences please refer to this link from Dream School
Since the dawn of time, people have dreamt of flying. Psychology informs us that as children, many of us have had such dreams. Mario Castillo has stated that he himself used to “dream” of flying as a young boy. The sensations of these dreams were so real that he has often wondered if these experiences were in any way related to astral traveling or another form of out-of-the body experience.
Leonardo da Vinci tried to decode how birds flew by studying and designing several flying machines based on his research. Da Vinci failed to find the code which would lead to human flight. But the intrigue for conquering the sky has always been of constant interest to all humanity. We are still pushing to fly faster and higher. Mario Castillo has been attracted to this subject since the age of five when he would draw large airplanes on the blackboards of the school in Villa Unión, Coahuila, México. It could be said that these were his first “murals”, for Castillo started to paint actual murals in 1963 while he was a student at Lane Technical High School in Chicago. Chicago’s Riverview Park was right next door on Western Avenue, and as he passed by there he would see people flying down on the roller coaster.
Mario Castillo has used the subject of birds in other paintings. One of his early bird depictions from 1964 shows a dove with futurist-expressionist wings landing on a wooden posts fence. This small work on board was no larger than 8” by 9”. It was stolen from a collector’s house in the Near North side of Chicago around 1966. Because of this loss, Mario Castillo did two other variations on the theme, but they never came close to the inherent qualities of the first one.
He revisits the theme of birds in this series once more. But here, human nature takes center stage in the sense that these aviary masks become somewhat anthropomorphic. At times, wings grow from the sides while other faces seem to capture in their eyes the reflection of birds in full flight. Some of them seem to make reference to Mercury, the Greek Messenger God. But in general, this body of work is about masked bird faces which evolved from doing the Chupicuaro series. Although there is no specific reference to any particular bird, the owl and the eagle are two prominent and recurring subjects within this category.
Castillo’s Chupicuaro Veracruz format lends itself so well for many of these to become an owl’s head or that of an eagle’s. Tradition has given the nocturnal owl a veil of underworld mystery. In general, its association with the night, knowledge, and the occult, gives this bird a special place in folklore and mythology. The quetzal is another bird Castillo has depicted in his art. The feathered headdress in the ethno-museum link above, seems to be made from quetzal feathers. See photograph of the marvelous Quetzal bird
on this link from Costa Rica.
The Maya and the Aztecs regarded this male bird’s lengthy tail feathers as jewels because of their inherent beauty and resplendent green color. They were used as currency, almost as if they were gold for they were a precious commodity to the ancient Mexicans.
The eagle has always been a majestic bird because for Native Americans, it seemed to be like the sun, the ruler of the sky. In fact the Mesoamericans associated the eagle with the sun god. The Aztecs had a military order of Eagle Warriors who dressed in fancy feathered Eagle combat uniforms. Please refer to image of such warrior at Cal State Los Angeles
Even today the eagle is an American and Mexican symbol found in currency, emblems, and many other places that want to communicate a regal or national feeling in their logo. America’s number one bird is indeed the ruler of the sky, for it is the most powerful avian predator in North America.
The eagle was also regarded highly by the Chichimeca peoples, the group the Mexica-Aztecs belonged to. It was an integral part of their mythology. Transmitting the word of their god, the Mexica priests had made it known to their subjects that in their wanderings, if they were to come across an eagle devouring a serpent, while it rested on top of a prickly-pear cactus, that this was the sign from their gods to stop their nomadic life and build their city on and around that sacred spot. They did encounter such a sight on an islet in Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Anahuac. Today, this image of the eagle adorns the central white panel of the Mexican flag. And so, this is where they started to build their city which eventually became the great Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, now the world’s third largest urban center with over 21,000,000 people. It is incredible to think that what started out as a prophetical myth, ended as one of the planet’s greatest metropolis.
But according to the Spanish conquistadors’ accounts, the Tenochtitlan area, seen here at the Inter American Institute
(this image is a detail of one of Diego Rivera’s murals) was a metropolis in itself when they arrived and so different and awesome in its beauty that it could have been the 8th wonder of the world. But they destroyed it all. Why...because of their religious ideology. It is similar to what the Taliban did in 2001 in Afghanistan. They destroyed all of Buddha’s statues, including the two colossal ones carved on massive rock cliffs in the Bamiyan Valley of Afghanistan. These Buddhas were sculptural masterworks which could have very well been given the title of the 8th wonder of the world. It is a shame that because of divergent religious beliefs humans have to negate other people’s reality and perform barbaric acts against them which in turn destroy humanity’s heritage. They think that by doing so they will eradicate other religious philosophies which are not their own.
Refer to these links for photographs of the Bamiyan Buddhas and their destruction from Buddhist News
and Buddhism Today
Mario Castillo will be adding more works to this Category so please revisit. The following links will take you to other bird themes in Castillo’s work.
Here is one of Mario Castillo’s large bird related paintings dealing with Nagualism
In another painting, a yellow bird
becomes an ally to a nagual.
Then in this Quetzalcoatl painting, the feathered serpent takes on the form of a Bird Spirit
Another work shows a Nagual Woman
learning from birds.