Anton del Castillo’s take on faith and art.
Written by Ren Aguila
Anton del Castillo’s faith shows in his art, and how it can be contextualized and understood. Many of his artworks have of late been accompanied by epigraphs quoting the Bible. “I have been through so many trials in my life,” he says. “But one thing that consistently answered all my questions amidst the challenges I faced was the Word of God. It speaks to me, and I have found my true purpose in life through it.” His interest in religion and religious themes has been consistent throughout his career—his first solo show, Under One Roof, depicted how war and religion interacted and how these can be viewed through the lens of Byzantine style iconography.
The themes of war or conflict, religion and faith continue to manifest itself in del Castillo’s art. This can be seen in his pieces which were recently exhibited during Singapore Art Week—at the IMPART Collectors’ Show: Fabulous Monstersat ArtScience Museum, and the ARTery Pop-Up at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre. For instance, his work titled “OMG (Oh My God)” takes the familiar altar piece, or reredos, and transforms it into a violent spectacle, where one sees figures in struggle with other figures. Done in resin, the altar piece is finished with dripping red paint, signifying salvation through the blood of Christ. This is characteristic of del Castillo’s more recent work in sculpture, which is a departure for him in terms of medium and material.
On this turn to resin sculpture, del Castillo explains: “I started working on black iron metal works and shifted to resin since some imagery is hard to capture with metal. Aside from this, I wanted my work to be in the real space. Moving within the real space makes us see all the sides, thereby enabling the work to be an experience that’s true to life.” He emphasizes that he has been doing sculptural work before, but not to the extent that he does now. One example is his installation of jackstones, A Child’s Memory, that took up a space outside the old Ateneo library buildings. For the author, it evokes not only play, but war, as these jackstones evoke images of wooden structures that litter “no man’s land” and signify the presence of landmines.
Del Castillo continues to work with the estofado technique, which appears in old saints’ statues and altar pieces. He describes it as painting over gold leaf and scraping over paint to reveal the gold underneath.
His recent series of paintings, as with others done in the past, is done in this technique. The series portrays figures with skeletal heads or masks, a feature which intrigued us. He says of this: “The skull head emphasizes [human mortality], hence symbolizing death. The mask tells us how each one of us has a story hidden beneath the masks we put up.” He adds that the masks he paints are gas masks—protecting one from harmful gases, which he sees as a metaphor for the painful truths from which we hide. Each work is accompanied by an epigraph, either from the Bible or from a noted historical figure. For instance, “I Am Not Who You Think I Am,” a work depicting a man and a woman, both masked, confronting each other, is accompanied by Jesus’s sayings concerning seeing others’ faults before seeing one’s own (Matthew 7:1-5).
Both del Castillo’s paintings and sculptures complement each other. Working with these two media together produces interesting results. “I wanted to touch all the senses,” he says, “Tapping multiple senses fleshes out a whole other dimension of experience different from when you’re just limited to sight. In other words, there’s a sense of liveliness and truthfulness.”
This will especially be emphasized in his exhibit for Galerie Stephanie for Art Fair Philippines 2019, called Inferno. Ricky Francisco curates this show, which features del Castillo’s rendering of Dante’s place of eternal torment. Highlighting what the curator describes as human concupiscence, the tendency of persons to fall into doing evil, the exhibit features two life-size sculptures and nine paintings. The artist describes the show as being very different from his past appearances in the previous editions of Art Fair Philippines, where his work was scattered around various booths.
At this point in our story, the curious reader may ask, why his fascination with religious themes? For del Castillo, it is a matter of life itself. “By this, I mean the trials, conflicts, envy, greed, forgiveness, consequences, and love that we chance upon in life,” he says. The artist adds that his earlier work aimed to bring various religions into dialogue by erasing differences and connecting it to a relationship with God. In many ways, we note, this is closely tied to the origins of the word “religion” itself: a connection, an attachment, to the divine. “Th is is why I’m not afraid to speak about this matter,” he says, “It’s my own testimony—I found my purpose by finding God, and I’m just a vehicle of his messages for us.
If one of these messages is what John Calvin describes as the total depravity of humankind, del Castillo finds inspiration in it. On his series of works described earlier depicting men and women, he holds forth on the nature of the first sin and the equality of human beings: “It’s usually a man and a woman because we are all equal in the eyes of God…I don’t believe that the woman committed the first sin. I believe that it was the man, for God’s commandment pertains to Adam, and through the sin of pride, both man and woman committed the sin. Man continues to suffer due to the consequences of his action.” The result of this is an equal fascination with war and violence and play, which del Castillo traces to his childhood. He connects war to play in that life produces winners and losers, as war does. Such is the difficulty of life, he says.
The confluence of war, violence, and faith was in a show called Void, which was also a show that allowed him to depict the inner struggles he faced in life. What does this bode for the future, though? Del Castillo says, “Th e life of an artist is a continuous exploration of concept, medium and style…In other words, his quest with mediums is a perpetual progress that will grow throughout his artistic life.”