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Fearless, Cute, and Cheap: The Work of Baltazar Castillo

Occasionally, Sixty invites guest writers to share their words and contribute an article to our archives.  This week we welcome, Jess Kaswiner, arts advocate with the Arts & Education Exchange from the Arts Alliance Illinois and creator of the podcast ‘Artists Mean Business‘.  The following is her introduction to and analysis of work by Chicago artist Baltazar Castillo.

Baltazar Castillo, Fearless, Cute and Cheap, 2012. (Image courtesy of the artist.)

“Hey Baltazar!”

This was not the first time I’ve found myself yelling “Hey Balthazar” at the 1500 block of North Honore – nor will it be the last.

A long time resident of this neighborhood, Baltazar Castillo has been and continues to be a an integral part of the pre-yupster “art scene” in Chicago’s Wicker Park. Although an early member of the Around the Coyote crew, his new unassuming lair serves as the perfect hideout for his live/work studio.

Much like the chaotic kaleidoscope of the neighborhood, his work continues is in constant transformation. Several years ago I came across his work at the Flat Iron building: it was horrifying in the truest sense of the word. Lifeless papier-mâché corpses and mummified limbs dangled from the rafters, wrapped in expired newspapers and refuse.

Just as the neighborhood warped, changed by internal frustration and external pressures, Baltazar’s work has also undergone a sort of ‘makeover’. In a fit of compulsive investigation of canvas material, he has articulated every iteration possible, from written word to jewelry. Wrapping himself and others in a gesture which no doubt freed him from the constraints of this material, stepping out from the confines of the Flat.

From self-taught to self indulgent, Baltazar nears his final year as a BFA student at the School of the Art Institute, awarded a scholarship for his uncompromising aesthetics. Today, returning to a tradition of planar surfaces, his work is more enigmatic than before. Rich textures and suggested symbols are blurred beneath layers of propaganda, sanded down and refurbished, hinting at nondescript form, narrative, and landscape.

Baltazar Castillo, Fearless, Cute and Cheap (In progress), 2012. (Image courtesy of the artist.)

“Fearless, Cute and Cheap” finds itself smack in the middle of this exploration. An explosion of Rubenesque bodies roll atop of one another amidst a sea of pop culture propaganda and porn. “I had to borrow from friends – I don’t have much porn. But,” he adds “I’m very seduced by magazines… It’s the pages, the slickness of the pages that I like.” In the privacy of his studio apartment our eyes prodded the figures, dissecting the mantel of nudity above the four-poster bed. When asked why he chose to sand the canvas – destroying the very smoothness he loves – Baltazar responded candidly “By sanding the female figures I’ve brought them just a step closer to me. By touching the canvas and removing the brush I literally feel their bodies under [the motion of] my hand”. (FCC)

I remark on the blue ribbon, an homage to Roy Lichtenstein’s iconoclastic brush stroke, as yet another commentary on the omnipresence of the artists tool. After multiple readings of the painting I share with Baltazar an observation that this central brush stroke nearly erupts out of the woman’s vagina revealing – in my opinion – a moment of certain climax. “I never saw that!” Baltazar reflected. Although open to views and opinions of others, Baltazar was quick to reply. Lifting his forefinger and thumb to his mouth, he said emphatically, “Take the baby in the corner for example. That is a baby.” Purposefully smothered in a cocoon of blankets, he shared, it is a commentary on youth culture suffocated by the protective efforts of suburban parents and a generation of aspiring FCCs administrators.

To say that there are multiple perspectives for viewing this work is an understatement. Perhaps you are a Classical art historian interested in the long-standing tradition of bedroom voyeurism, or maybe you are a contemporary critic fixated on the mash-up between conventional papier-mâché and modern collage. Regardless of your age, agenda or affiliation, there is sure to be a moment of self-indulgence among the unbridled buffet of flesh.

Baltazar Castillo, Fearless, Cute and Cheap (Detail), 2012. (Image courtesy of the artist.)

This recent series of mixed media paintings beg the question; How do we digest the material culture around us and come to terms with how it influences our world? Do the overt displays of Kim Kardashian’s sex or Nike’s promised “ups” wash over us with benign affect? Baltazar’s new works imply that we passively submit to their influence, unaffected by the bizarre.

With this in mind, how do you respond? Or for that matter, do you respond at all?

To see images of Baltazar’s recent works or to contact the artist visit:

…or simply visit his studio and call out his name!

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