A codex is an ancient manuscript text in some kind of book form. It is usually of historical, religious, or mythological significance. The ancient Mexicans, the Aztecs, the Mixtecs, the Toltecs and the Mayans, had libraries full of codex documents. Most of these codices were burnt and destroyed by the Spanish conquistadores. Only a few of these priceless texts survived.
Mario Castillo has found inspiration in the iconography of these ancient Mexican books. He has established a series which he calls “Codices” and these works are appropriated from the original imagery and then altered to create a foundation for these works.
The British artist John Constable, upon seeing a Mixtec codex, made some very negative comments about the Mesoamerican aesthetics. Constable totally misunderstood the color and form of the beautifully abstracted figures, animals, and designs from ancient Mexico. This is what happens when one’s vision/imagination is dictated and controlled by one’s own traditions. The result is that one is trapped by this and is not able to enjoy and appreciate other art forms different from one’s own.
Since his youth, Mario Castillo has held a deep interest in archeology, especially in the art and architecture of Mesoamerica. As a child he dreamed of being an archeologist.
In 1994 he helped to curate an exhibition at Columbia College Chicago which he titled "Archeology of the Mind". This obviously is derived from the concept of "architecture of the mind", but he combined this with his belief that we all carry memories of our ancestral past in our genes and in our subconscious minds. His mother, Maria Enriquez de Allen, participated in this exhibition with her fascinating bone sculptures.
Around 1991, right after arriving at Columbia College, one of Chicano Art's most distinguished art historians, Dr. Victor Sorell, Professor and Associate Dean, College of Arts, Chicago State University, gave Mario Castillo’s work a critical review and stated that:
"...he's never abandoned his mestizo, Creole roots....... A refusal to deny or extinguish the past"....."(He has) a need to explore limitless frontiers of form and space. A painter as a cultural anthropologist. Cultural interventions with pigment. Aztec, Mayan, Acoma and Mimbres tongues speaking through inscribed speech glyphs and esoteric systems of signification."
Dr. Sorell might as well have called Castillo "a painter as an archeologist". If he were reviewing the contents of this report, he certainly would be inclined to do so, except that now Mario Castillo is using digital means to arrive at these pieces.
This body of work continues to explore the artistic potential inherent in Mesoamerican art, an art which speaks to Castillo as if it had just been created yesterday. This work was part of a solo exhibition, "EGGsistentialism" presented at the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum in the summer of 2004.
Mario Castillo calls these mixed-media digital works paintographs. During his 2004 sabbatical he developed the first work which comes under the Codices Series. Since he has embellished prints for over 20 years, Castillo has come to realize that some of these works become a mixed media original that is neither a print nor a painting, but instead, a new original work which is an interdisciplinary fusion of both art forms; art and photography. To classify these works as embellished prints is to discredit their true originality. Thus a new term was born ... “PAINTOGRAPHY". Castillo becomes a photographer and the photograph becomes a painting while he keeps on investigating the archeology of the mind as this relates to his Mexican Heritage.