May 6, 2016 Interview – Vincent Castiglia
Art is the fabric that makes up our very being. An emotional release, form, expression, or social statement, art will continue to infinitely define culture. Impassioned American Painter Vincent Castiglia has forged his own path as an artist with pieces of work that explore a variety of darker subject matters. Internationally acclaimed for his work, Castiglia’s exhibits have been featured all over the world, including at The Museum of Sex in New York, The HR Giger Museum Gallery in Switzerland, The Mall Gallery in London, England, and Museo De La Ciudad De México in Mexico, just to name a few. Most recently receiving media recognition for painting Slayer/Exodus Guitarist Gary Holt’s guitar from Holt’s own blood, Castiglia’s body of work runs far and deep. Recently we sat down with the compelling creator to talk his inspiration, his chosen subject matter, future projects, and more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in art for some time now. First tell us, what inspired you to become an artist?
Vincent Castiglia – From as early as I can remember, drawing was something I did on a daily basis. Making art was a way to channel what I felt in a constructive way. Circumstances were not good growing up to say the very least, so making art was the most powerful way of separating myself from my environment, and creating a new reality. I knew being an artist was something I’d hoped to accomplish, but I believe the creative process really began as a bi-product of my circumstances.
CrypticRock.com – Art is definitely a product of life experiences. Your work is extremely vivid with what some would call nightmarish imagery, but others would call beautiful. Were you always drawn to the darker side of artistic creation?
Vincent Castiglia – Without reciting a litany of events, I can say generally that I grew up in traumatic conditions. Art, very literally, began as an inevitable extension of this. My mother, who I lived with alone, was a hoarder of the most severe variety. Her illness wouldn’t allow her to throw anything at all, including perishables. I lived with her in an apartment filled from floor to ceiling with garbage, a lot of it rotting. Maggots all round, in my mattress and on the walls, mice running around, hollowed-out, dead mice she wouldn’t throw out (and that I wasn’t allowed to throw out), hundreds of moths flying around, and it goes on and on. This was my daily existence until I left at eighteen or so, having tried to be there as little as possible for many years before this, and staying at friend’s houses for months.
There were a number of life-altering traumas in addition to that in the past. That is to say, my creative ground was fertile with existential insights and emotions that needed to be communicated for my own well being and survival. The work is inspired by the human condition; birth and death, the passions, our virtues, our lower nature, beauty, decay and entropy. Circumstance has always been my greatest influence. The details of my life bleed into the compositions in the form of allegory and effigy. And although profoundly personal, I believe each painting has a universal relevance and accessibility. Not like a landscape or something would, obviously. But more in terms of the language of our emotions, and the issues that drive, plague, and sate each and every human being. Internally, I guess the pursuit of freedom is what influences, or causes the work to be created. Because when I’m making the work, I’m free.
CrypticRock.com – It is wonderful you have found a way to turn your past experiences into something more profound. Your work has been exhibited all over the world now. Would you say these international experiences have enriched you as creator as well as a person?
Vincent Castiglia – Absolutely. I feel very fortunate to have had all of the professional experiences I’ve had to date. Until you start to see other countries and cultures, your perspective really is limited. And you don’t know this, of course, until you do so. I have a particular connection to Switzerland, where I’ve shown many times, two of which being solo shows.
CrypticRock.com – That is very true, you never know what exists until you have experienced it. Art is truly an inspirational escape. For better or worse, the modern world is overwhelmed with technology and instant gratification. With that said, do you find, even with the diminishing attention span of the average person, that art still moves them?
Vincent Castiglia – That’s an important question. It’s a strange but interesting time to be alive. It’s probably one of the most exciting times in history, technologically and scientifically speaking, as old models are being scratched, and new, advanced physics are replacing old views, and making the impossible very possible. But it’s also probably the worst, most painful time to be alive as an artist. All creative fields, art, music, film, and so on, have had the life almost completely snuffed out of them. It’s actually somewhat unreal to me. It was a slow but steady decline I’d noticed somewhere after 2000, which now is at a total flatline. I addressed this in a recent painting, “Beauty And Truth (Not Forgotten), in my latest body of work, “Autopsy of The Soul,” The two figures in the painting, male and female, represent the physical embodiment of Beauty and Truth in our current age – deceased, gutted, examined, and waiting their plots in the earth. But, they haven’t been entirely “forgotten” either, as there will always be the few who refuse to let these forces die out completely, and continue to strive to make their work embodiments of these living phenomena.
The way I look at it, the travesty that is the current ‘art’ market bubble, ‘pop’ music, and ‘blockbuster’ films can only persist for so long, until humanity as a whole wakes up to the reality that it’s regressed 1000 fold, and was better off in all arenas ages before. It’s a kind of collective disgrace that things have gotten so bad, dumbed down, and formulaic to the degree of idiocy incarnate. As it turns out, the film Idiocracy unfortunately wasn’t fictional, but a documentary. It’s probably the truest social commentary to exist in mainstream media. But all hope is not lost. The pendulum has already begun to swing. As it gathers momentum, more people will lend their force to it once they see it’s ‘safe’ to do so and eventually we’ll see a contemporary ‘renaissance’, not the renaissance of the middle ages, but an entirely new movement, possibly even more creatively explosive and awe-inspiring than the first. We’re no where near it, but I believe it’s in the works. Maybe in the next 50 years or so. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but I’ll take it.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed, let’s hope so, because it is extremely important to be aware of these situations and the art of expressing it. Included in your resume you have painted an album artwork in the past for Triptykon. Would you be interested in perhaps painting more album artworks for other bands in the future?
Vincent Castiglia – I am, and actually am in discussion about an album cover at the moment, which I’m very excited about. As you can imagine, the band’s music would have to appeal to me or at least make sense conceptually with what I do and my aesthetic. I wouldn’t agree to do an album for anyone that’s ready to throw money at me. I could be in advertising or real estate sales if that were the case. But absolutely, I’m looking forward to many future album cover projects with artists whose work I admire.
CrypticRock.com – Your art is a part of you, so naturally it is understandable that the music needs to connect. You most recently crafted a custom-painted guitar forged from Slayer Guitarist Gary Holt’s very own blood. What was this experience like and how would you compare painting with blood opposed to say oil or water based paints?
Vincent Castiglia – It was a trip for sure. A client of mine, Brian Werner, vocalist of Vital Remains, had suggested the idea to me as a kind of “what if” scenario about painting a guitar in blood. I thought about, considered the logistics, and although I’d never done anything like it before, in theory it was entirely possible. He mentioned the idea to Gary, and Gary thought it was the sickest concept ever, and that’s how Gary and I got to talking. I’ve been a Slayer fan since the early 90’s. In fact, the first show I’d ever gone to was Slayer/Machine Head/Biohazard at Roseland Ballroom around ’94. So to be working with them in this capacity was definitely yet a another surreal professional experience for me.
Watching “Reign In Blood” from the side of the stage, in the piece of artwork I painted for Gary in his blood, was just totally surreal. If I had to compare it to anything, it’s very much like watercolor for the most part, but the darkest, most opaque tones are achieved from the older, decomposing blood, which is more like a paste that can be activated with water, so I’d compare using that to an almost “acrylic-like” medium. It’s somewhere between watercolor and acrylic. Besides this, it’s got a whole other world of nuances and requirements which differ from traditional media, obviously. It has to be collected intravenously via particular medical supplies, so it’s not the most readily accessible substance. It also needs to be refrigerated, every work surface needs a plastic barrier and must be properly sanitized before and after each setup, etc.
CrypticRock.com – Very intriguing, and a unique experience for sure. Among your many credits, you are also the first American artist to ever receive a solo exhibit at H.R. Giger Museum in Switzerland. That is a tremendous honor. Sadly, we lost Giger back in 2014. What was your experience like working with Mr. Giger? One can imagine he was an extraordinary artist.
Vincent Castiglia – Having been acknowledged by Giger through his solo exhibition invitation, for my 1st solo exhibition ever, was the most pivotal experience in my life up to that point, and the most unfathomable honor. He was a god to me. I’ve gleaned many things from our relationship. However, most of this has been in the way of guidance and personal example by way of his character.
I can’t say that much or any concrete elements of Giger’s aesthetic have found their way into my work, as it’s entirely different in every way. But he’s said some things that have stuck with me deeply. Such as, an artist does not have to explain their work, it speaks for itself. Giger’s work was as much of a mystery to him as it was to the rest of the world, and in this way, this notion affirmed the almost blind faith I had in my personal creative process, and my devotion to the purity of process, in other words, not allowing my ideas, technique, medium, etc, to be contaminated or influenced by outside opinion.
This is a slippery slope for an artist. If one starts to censor, dumb down, or ‘pretty-up’ one’s work for any reason beyond a personal belief that this is what should necessarily be, this marks the death of true creativity. If bending any way the wind blows is ok with someone, I suppose you might as well be an illustrator, and take on magazine or book illustration. I’d never forecasted that my work would appeal to the vast majority, nor would it have the easiest time being accepted and understood. But for those who do connect with and understand it, the connection is extremely powerful. I value this. Despite whether the work’s appreciation is marginalized or not, it’s truthfulness and purpose among the outskirts means more to me than what feigned work’s widespread popularity and success could ever amount to. Giger’s work epitomized this.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, staying true to the vision and emotion is the utmost importance. Clearly your work is inspired by darker matter, as mentioned above. When creating a piece of work, is there a ritual you partake in? Perhaps listen to a certain form of music, etc?
Vincent Castiglia – I listen to all kinds of music. I also usually light smokeless incense before and during work. Generally speaking, I have to be completely alone. Any distractions will derail my focus. It’s an ethereal place from which I’m working, and any reminders of or anchors to the physical world and my presence in it cut off my connection to that ‘other place’ between physical matter.
CrypticRock.com – Very understandable. What are some future projects you have on the horizon?
Vincent Castiglia – As mentioned, there’s an album cover on the table which I can’t yet talk about, but am very excited to work on. Currently working on a new body of work, “Autopsy of The Soul,” which I’m a little less than halfway through painting. Also, award-winning Filmmaker John Borowski is currently working on the official biopic on my work and life, Bloodlines: The Art and Life of Vincent Castiglia.
I’m honored to be working with John on the film, which has been going on for about 18-20 months now. We’re just about wrapped up with filming, then John starts the editing process. I believe he plans it to be a fall release, if everything goes as planned. John is an equally great person as he is a director, which is saying a lot. All four of his films have been on Netflix at one point or another, two of which I believe are currently streaming there. The subjects of his films have been serial killers to date (all deceased). So I’m the first living, non-serial killer he’s profiled to date.
CrypticRock.com – That is exciting to look forward to. Our last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror films. If you are a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorite Horror films?
Vincent Castiglia – I am a fan. Some of my favorites are The Exorcist (1973), Frankenhooker (1990), Hanger (2009), Rabid Grannies (1989), The Gate (1987), Alien (1979), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and Blood Sucking Freaks (1976), to name a few.