For this months feature, the Creep Machine not only had the pleasure to show the art of Vincent Castiglia, but to also interview him. I do hope what is recorded below will give viewers a greater understanding into the artwork that Vincent creates, but also to foster a greater appreciation of it. Vincent creates his paintings with only the use of his own blood. Looking past the medium one can clearly see that he is creating allegorical paintings, dealing with the ideas of life, death, and rebirth. Works of art that are iconic and timeless. I would like to thank Vincent for taking the time to answer these questions.
CM: I know you went to the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. Was drawing and painting something that you did from an early age, or did you start later?
Vincent: I began drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil and comprehend how to make a mark on any given surface. Making art began like “The Great Escape” for me, and the most efficient way to disconnect from the war zone of what appeared to be a home from the outside world. Those initial marks on paper, walls, or just about anything I chose to draw on would pave the way to a much more contemplative sphere of reasoning and technical execution than what was possible at three or four. But nonetheless those early markings were the formative acts which were to unfold into a tree of destiny, the fruits of which are now my sustenance and the life of my flesh.
CM: After you finished high school, you then studied illustration, did you have the idea to formally continue your art education, such as a private art college or atelier? I’ve talked to many budding artists that having decided to not go to art school, they were kind of lost in what to do. What were some of the things that you did to help teach yourself the skills and ideas that we now see in your work?
Vincent: In the middle of my 3rd year, I was fully resolved to withdraw from formal art training and pursue my own art full time, as it became increasingly apparent that the single sheet of paper I was toiling for would be of little value in the reality I intended to create. I had been making art for myself throughout school in the little bits of time I‘d struggle to free up, and was totally conflicted about this dichotomy…going to a place which teaches you to shove yourself in a box of conventionality and artistic conformism, while at the same time being ultimately driven to communicate what is so purely personal, somewhat unexplainable, and entirely unconventional through my art, and never having enough time to do so. So no, I wasn’t lost after this, it was the very opposite. I really cut-loose creatively, in the most extreme sense. I had a clear path before me, which I could decorate with as many painfully honest works as I could paint. My only obligations were to make sure I took on enough paying work to pay my rent and bills, and the rest of the time I’d be buried in my studio, sometimes for weeks on end with very few brakes or trips out of the studio. So really, I worked to work, to work, to work. That’s the theme in the life of an artist beginning with no backing or cushion, or stability or safety on any level, but contrarily having to labor for every penny earned…. you grind the gears of your body and mind against the mundane world of obligations and occupational struggles, until the exhausts ascend as sweet savor to the muse, and the good daemon smiles upon your efforts, and blesses your terrestrial anguish with the blueprint to your opus. Hopefully then you live long enough to paint it.
The simplest way I could describe what I’ve done to develop the skill of my work and describe it‘s content…I just trusted in the perfection of the moment, moment after moment, receiving each vision which was powerful enough to make an impression deep enough on my mind to move me to paint it, then I acted on that inspiration with all the force in me, through to the completion of the project. And whatever it took to manifest it, that was what I did.
I’m inspired in two ways, from within, and from without. Inspiration from within needs no explanation. The other, is when external, physical events present me with some overarching absurdity or circumstantial conundrum that begs for dissolution, past or present. Through the creative process, the coarse elements related to the given object of contemplation, or concept of the painting, are diffused, and literally coagulated, into what can be thought of as the express image of my soul, or the place upon which it’s gaze is fixed at that given point in time. So, the painting becomes a question posed, a meditation on what is otherwise unknowable or incommunicable and just beyond the scope of normal human knowing, dissected and reintegrated into a point of physical contact and visible form of what could have only been regarded as ethereal, or transcendental perceptions. That’s surrealism I suppose.
CM: One of the first things I noticed about your work, was your understanding and knowledge of the human form and anatomy. Has the figure always been a central element to your art, or was it inspired possibly by your tattoo work and the link it has to the human body?
Vincent: Because my thoughts are dominated by the human experience…and it’s consequent absurdities…the human figure has always been a central theme in my work. In certain Schools of thought, the human form is understood as a microcosmic sum of the universe, assigning the peculiarities of each area of the body and their functionality to astronomical, and even divine affairs. This is not dissimilar to the way astrology asserts the belief in specific properties of celestial bodies having their affect on humans based on space-time natal data. Or, how the body is sometimes likened to The Temple. That being said, thinking of the human body in this way, we all may indeed be “little universes” in a sense, enshrined in flesh, experiencing the endless night of an ever-reaching void, while hopefully trying to avoid as many human “asteroids“ as we can. All esoteric notions aside, the human being is interesting and complex enough to thoroughly keep an artist’s attention fixed upon it for the duration of their natural life.
CM: I have seen a few other artists use blood as a medium, but it is clear that it is used mainly for shock value and to draw away attention to the poor execution. The skill level your work possesses is of course of a higher caliber and would be well fit for any medium. Have you noticed the average viewer of your gallery work to pay more attention to the medium rather than the imagery it helps to create?
Vincent: No. The average viewer of my work is ultimately concerned with what is occurring in the content of the imagery, what it means to me, and what inspires it. The average editorial piece and the media is what sometimes seems to make a bit of a sensational spectacle of it…putting great emphasis on it as a phenomenon…an unintentional inevitability given what reading about it in print must look like. I had not even publicly disclosed that my medium was human blood until 2008, and only recently had this information placed on my website, less than a year ago…after many years of keeping it private. Some of my earliest works of this nature date back to 2001. I kept it private for so long precisely because it is not sensational subterfuge to obscure the viewer’s vision. The work should always be viewed in light of it’s concept and technical merit, the medium simply being my connection to, and sacrifice for each work. It began as catharsis for me in the most honest and personal sense, and still is such, in addition to my commitment to the unadulterated expression of truth, my truth, and possibly one more universal.
CM: The medium that you use, for me, was always a detail and nothing that overtook the art. The first thing that I was taken in by, was the iconography and classical styling of the works. The idea about death juxtaposed with elements of life, such as the leaves in the background and the roots that seem to be growing from the figures. Can you give a peek into the development and ideas behind some of your iconographic elements?
Vincent: The duplicity of living, living this life superimposed upon imminent death has always been a great mystery to me. Both phenomena are equally real, occurring simultaneously, and in fact are inextricable…a thought which pervades my work.
The plant-life seen throughout my work is the result of an epiphany I’d had many years ago…the intrinsic connection between humans and the plant kingdom. Therein lies a synergy which, to me, points to an enigma present in all of us. Correlations between lung and tree structures, the composition of the nervous system relative to the roots and branches of the plant kingdom, as well as the inverse chemical processes of respiration are deeply intriguing, even if only considered briefly. We breathe oxygen which they produce as waste, they breathe carbon dioxide, which is our respiratory bi-product, and is actually what they “breathe“. The ideas behind this interdependence also are a common thread through a lot of the paintings.
Just the way there are juxtapositions of living and dead tissue in the figures, so the foreground and background are polar opposites, and contrasted by the painstaking realism in what is closest to you and most readily visible…the foreground….against the flat, silhouetted shapes of the naturally occurring forms in the background…by the contrast of these elements the analogy between will and fate is drawn.
The figures themselves can be a few things…metaphors for events in my life personified, or actual personalities depicted, in what I’d consider a more accurate ways than in their natural state.
CM: You recently worked on a series of portraits for the members of the band Triptykon (as seen in the inside cover of their latest album Eparistera Daimones). Music and art have a great way of fusing together and complimenting each other, in some cases inspiring one another. What are some of the bands or movies that have had the greatest impact on the development of your art?
Vincent: Yes, it was an amazing collaboration, which I was very honored to work on. I believe that Triptykon’s explosive music, Giger’s masterpiece, and my painting have coalesced in a truly amazing way. I don’t think I could delineate direct the influences from music or movies in terms of them having great impact on my work, because my art is my own, and of it’s own nature. I can, however, cite groups and movies which I go back to repeatedly due to identification I find with them, a list which may seem very polarized, but if I had to reduce it to a few they would be…for movies…Midnight Express & The Excorcist, for music…Lisa Gerrard, Benedictine Chant of Santo Domingo and Roumanian Chant of Marcel Peres, Pantera, Celtic Frost, Dead Can Dance, Fear Factory, Crowbar, Love Is Colder Than Death, Lycia.
CM: I know that H.R. Giger has been a great influence on your art. Can you tell us about other artists that have helped to inspire your work?
Vincent: H.R. Giger’s work, it goes without saying, has been a tremendous inspiration to me. Dali’s art was a also a great inspiration for me. There’s nothing like it, plenty of artist’s perpetrating fraudulent compositions in the vein of Dali, but not many at all touching his level of originality. To be totally forthright, I don’t really consciously look toward many artist’s work for inspiration, to the extent that it might be considered a kind of self-imposed oblivion. My greatest inspirations, in the sense of what populates my mind with images and emotions that seek an outlet, have been my circumstances, past and present. I have always felt that the purity of vision and force of emotion that I work with is completely sufficient to a painting’s creation.
CM: I know that some artists see their art as a kind of emotional vomit, and when they are done they are happy to get the work away from them and start on the next piece. Due to the fact that your art is not only emotionally, but physically comprised of yourself, do you find it hard to part with your paintings?
Vincent: I do. It’s been quite a transition for me, from the time I began painting in this way, having such a deep emotional connection to every piece, while at the same time coming to terms with each work‘s autonomy. My art is more like giving birth than making art. There is love and pain involved. There’s a time of gestation. Through great pains of labor something beautiful is born, something which now exists in reality and will go on to propagate the essence of it’s purpose. They are my children, and like children they nurture me in turn.
An additional absurdity of working in my medium is putting a price on these works. It’s like being asked how much you want for your right lung, there’s no right answer. Blood is what issues naturally from us, as does my work from me, so this synthesis between media and theory was the final step in achieving what I consider to be the completion of a circle within my creative process. Because blood is technically considered a tissue, and they are human forms which are being depicted with this substance in the art …their musculature, hair, and innards…to stand in front of one can only provide the true understanding of what is meant by the “quickening” effect this substance has upon the figures.
And I should mention, as a kind of informal disclaimer, that these ideas I’ve communicated in regard to the particulars of the work, are just assumptions as to what it all might mean concretely or universally…I can only express these thoughts after having stood back, viewed, and processed the elements in my work long enough to form those ideas about it all….point being is that the force which put it there preceded the assertions as to what it might be, and preceded the paintings themselves. That is the miracle of it all, and motivating factor that keeps me in a perpetual state of creation, acting as a medium for that very force.