With these drawings, Mario Castillo investigates different methods for depicting the human countenance by utilizing various stylistic approaches. Some of these are done in pencil, others in ink, still others are in colored pencils, while many make use of mixed media, including the use of ink pads and lettered stamps to incorporate the printing method into these works.
The diversified styles and techniques Mario Castillo displays within this group appear to be endless. There are the smooth and rough faces; some are calm while others are electrifying. Then you have the various references to art movements such as Modern Art, Pop Art, Surrealism, Futurism, Cubism, Primitivism, Symbolism, Realism, Chicago Regionalism (the Hairy Who and the Chicago Imagists), Expressionism, Biomorphism, and Folk Art, while maintaining a constant search for a way of conveying a new form of Mexicaness.
Some of these drawings become anthropomorphic masks depicting some creature from the subconscious. Some touch the dark side of life, becoming a bit macabre. The dichotomy of life and death presented on the same visage is a theme that is found in ancient Mexican Art and many artists continue to expand on this subject. However, the idea of expressing and presenting the human condition in all of its different facets is the major concern for most of Mario Castillo’s drawings from this period.
Although this seems to be changing now, for most of the twentieth century, art schools had been conveying to their students the need to be original and consistent. As a result, artists looked for ways to find and establish an approach to their art production that appeared unique and uniform so that they could claim it as their own signature style. Mario Castillo was able to do this early on in the 1960’s. Then again in the 1980’s he searched to establish a new way of working. Once he did, he found it challenging to come up with differing pictorial ways to convey the same subject while at the same time spending gratifying moments deconstructing and reinventing the human face.
It is well documented that artists get great satisfaction when they create a work of art, something that comes from within. Art can be very therapeutic for the contemplators who stand in front of an artwork that is captivating with a potential of transporting them into an internal mindscape that only they can create. Imagine the therapeutic value of producing the work itself; it seems that for the artist, this value doubles or triples. Maria Enriquez de Allen
, Mario Castillo’s mother, used to say that she did her work for the pure joy of it and for its therapeutic value. She produced her “Outsider” artwork until the age of 91.
The reason why art students nowadays are not pushed into acquiring their own unique style is that artists are now expected to be more experimental in trying different styles, media, and techniques. Ever since the 1980’s, there has been a trend for artists to work in different media, mixing these, and crossing over into other disciplines. An artist may have an exhibition in which works displayed show a variety of aesthetic concerns. The reader might want to refer to two of Mario Castillo’s art exhibitions, “Recapitulations” and “Minimal Reassertions”. In each of these, he presents works which appear very different from one another. Mario Castillo himself studied and majored in Multi-Media while doing his graduate study at USC (University of Southern California) in 1969 and 1970 and then at Cal Arts (California Institute of the Arts, in Valencia California) from 1970 through 1974.
Early on, Mario Castillo knew he wanted to be an art professor. He recognized the importance of learning as much as possible about art, its history, styles, media and techniques used by artists. He knew that by doing this it would give him a head start in his teaching career. Because of this, since the 1960’s, Castillo started to experiment with different stylistic tendencies. He likes the sense of freedom he gets from knowing that as an artist, he can use any style, media, and technique for expressing any subject he chooses. In this way, Mario Castillo’s creative spirit is free and not tied down to any particular style.
How is an artist’s style formed? The artist’s style is formed by many factors; the artist’s psychology, their own cultural inclinations, their education and knowledge of art history (or lack of), their preference for materials and the techniques dictated by these, current art trends and the art market (basically what is being shown in art galleries and published in art magazines). Regional and other artists’ pressure might also play an important part in developing the artist’s tendencies. At the outset, family and/or friends may play an initial role. In essence, the art style takes care of itself. The acquisition of it comes from doing one’s work. This is why art students should not worry about it because it will develop by itself. When artists push themselves to get one, the results look forced and artificial.
Part of the process of developing an artistic style comes natural. It is an automatic result of who the artist is and how they do things. This is similar to what happens with handwriting. Each person has their own way of doing the letter characters. Basic things like the way they hold the pencil and the pressure applied and the effort made to make it legible, leave a very personal print of the writer’s character simply by the force of habit. It is the same when an artist makes a drawing. It spontaneously becomes an expressive printout of the artist’s character. Thus there is a “natural” style already being established. But realizing a full-blown “signature” style is not as easy, although these initial given factors become a part of it.
An artistic style is produced through a focused and dedicated involvement with the creative process. It is a result which comes from years of work and commitment to the ritualistic act of creating art. The artist has to go through step #1 (whatever that might be, and as simple as placing the first mark on the canvas) to get to step #2, in turn step #2 leads to step #3 and so on in a progressive manner until the artwork is deemed to be finished.
For Mario Castillo, the art-making process is full of ritual. This being true for him, Castillo introduced actual performance rituals into his work. An example of this would be when he would take the raw canvas and use it as a cover while sleeping to “prime” it with his own electric energy (the aura) before he stretched it and actually primed it with gesso. But simply the process of mark making (drawing) and coating the canvas with “20 coats of paint” requires a repeated procedure that becomes trance-like. This is why it is so satisfying for artists to create. They seem to go into another time frame because in general, most of them agree that time just seems to “fly by” when they get focused in the “Now” of the creating moment.
These art-making rituals, which in themselves are disciplines, become the stepping stones and framework which guide the artist in a development which is full of introspection, intuition, and imagination. They help to direct the aesthetic path for the art style to form from this progressive linear process. Even though there is this built in ritualistic mechanism for procedure, within it, there is a sense of freedom with the intuitive development of ideas which are a byproduct of the “doing process” and simply, hard work.
At some point the artist arrives at a work he/she creates which feels very unique. It captures their imagination and then they began to do a series of variations upon the same theme. This can be an endless process, and then it may stop after doing a few pieces, because a new idea develops and it is followed by a new body of work with similar qualities but divergent concepts and concerns. Sometimes the artist produces only one work of art which represents a single stylistic tendency. What is interesting is that anyone of these singular pieces may be used as a springboard for a series of works.
For Mario Castillo, it is crucial to allow for experimentation in his work, because this leads to invention and the reevaluation of his work. This is why there is so much variety of approaches to Mario Castillo’s Chupicuaro drawings. For him, art seems to be a constant search for works which can embody a reason for being, and can shed some light into the depths of human consciousness, for it is through the arts, our socio-cultural mirror, that we learn as a people who we really are.