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of both worlds,” he says. Looking back on his work as a muralist, Castillo concludes that self-identification was an important element during the 1960s. “The murals reinforced our being, nourished our identity and gave pride to the community,” he says, taking in a quick gasp of air. “It was OK to be brown. It was OK to acknowledge our history and pay tribute to our heroes. It was OK to show our art out on the barrio walls since mainstream galleries were not showing it. We had to do this for ourselves because this was not being done for us.” In 1964, he began to mix acrylic paint with semen. “Semen is like the old medieval paintings, which used egg yolk instead of oil as a binder,” he says. He coined the terms “semen art” or “semen-acrylic” to describe this medium. This mixture of bodily fluids and paint is related to body art, the process of making the body a part of the materials used in creating a painting or sculpture. “Since I have never married because I wanted to give myself to art and dedicate my life to it, I see my paintings as my offspring and more so since some of them contain my semen,” he says. “When I die all of what was my physical self will disintegrate and turn to dust or ashes, but my DNA will continue, implanted in my perceptualism paintings.”
| photo mauricio rubio |
Now 63, the painter and art educator is considered a pioneer of Chicago’s 1960s mural movement. Once painting on the neighborhood walls of Pilsen, Castillo now toils in a studio, delving into new art forms with childlike enthusiasm as if he were drawing on the same blackboard from his childhood. Today, Mario Castillo recalls the past with great admiration, admitting that even though his art has evolved, there is one element in his work that has remained constant — his ethnicity. “I find that I need to somehow represent contemporary American art and my Mexican culture in my work, because after all this is who I am — a product
Corey Postiglione, a professor of fine art and art history at Columbia College of Chicago, says Castillo challenged the canon popularized by the white Anglo-Saxon male. “He moved away from conceptual art and moved back to painting,” says Postiglione. “The subject became the iconography of his Mexican heritage, and when he did that, he was also personalizing it with his own body. Semen is seminal, it is about fertility, it is about growth — all of these factors play into his work.” In 1972, Castillo created a burial place in the walls of the main art gallery at the California Institute of Art. This piece, “D.N.A. Transdisplacement,” showcased ten semen samples belonging to ten different artists. It was quickly seen as a negative representation of art and was eventually censored by the school’s administration. “This work reflected society’s current preoccupation with semen banks, [as well as ideas from] Day of the Dead and garbage archaeology,” Castillo says. “Backward-thinking people brought the controversy to my work.” The use of bodily fluids in art is not new. Other artists have used urine, blood and even vomit in their artwork in what is
| photo jillian sipkins |
exhibits Mario Castillo’s work can be seen in two exhibits this month: PERCEPTUALISM When: April 18-19 Where: 10057 S. Ave. M, Chicago Hours: 1-6 p.m Info: By appointment after exhibit dates. Contact Mario Castillo at castillo02@ comcast.net ARTISTS OF PILSEN When: Ends April 25 Where: Walker’s Point Center for the Arts, 911 W. National Ave., Milwaukee Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Admission: Free Info: (414) 672-2787
considered shock art. While artists test the boundaries of self-expression, what was once shocking is gradually becoming more acceptable. “This is getting to be less and less controversial,” Castillo says. “I get all kinds of responses from negative to positive to, ‘I do not care if the paint is mixed with semen, I like your painting.’ It is art and that is all that matters to me.” On July 4, 2001, Castillo wrote a manifesto in which he liberated himself from his past style. These days he has put down the paintbrush and taken up the computer mouse. His recent work, abstract surrealism, is an exploration in digital art. Mario Castillo’s work can be seen at the National Museum of Mexican Art or by visiting www.mariocastillo.com.