BONDED BY BLOOD: A CONVERSATION WITH ARTIST VINCENT CASTIGLIA
Artist Vincent Castigilia wasn’t well known in the metal scene until the release of Triptykon’s debut album Eparistera Daimones, which featured an interior portrait of the band painstakingly illustrated with Castiglia’s own blood.
But Castiglia’s intensity and desire to cross boundaries and break taboos would resonate with metal fans regardless of his affiliation with extreme music. The Brooklyn born artist was raised in a dysfunctional home with a mother who was a compulsive hoarder. He grew up around rotting garbage, refuse and insects. As a child he listened to metal and escaped his terrible surroundings with imagination. His dedication to a medium many would consider unorthodox at the very least has paid off with the respect of the metal world, commercial gigs that once seemed unobtainable (MTV), and, currently, a showing the Sacred Gallery in New York.
Castiglia recently spoke to MetalSucks about his escape and eventual triumph through art. Read the entire conversation after the jump.
I was always drawing, had a natural tendency to create things. If I had to describe my relationship with art at the time, it was kind of a distraction from my environment. I used it as a way to disconnect from a lot of things going on, a crazy home life. I just kept doing that and perfecting whatever I was trying to do. It was a great way to disconnect. It was almost a byproduct of circumstance.
Did you come from an artistic family?
No, I definitely didn’t come from an artistic background. My mother was a secretary and my father was a dental ceramist. But they had split, so I lived with my mother.
What were some of the first things you picked up on? Comics? Painting?
It was always drawing, as far back as I can remember. I tried to copy things from books and get them right. I was painting and drawing with pencils and pen. I started when I was ten or eleven and experimented with a lot of different things, demons and stuff like that. I painted landscapes for a short period. What I was most inspired to do came right from my imagination.
Where was your imagination taking you at that age?
My childhood was extraordinarily dysfunctional. My mother just passed away recently, and there was a lot to deal with. She was a hoarder of just everything — garbage, really. I grew up in squalid circumstances; floor to ceiling garbage. I was disconnected from that for years until she passed and I had to clean it up. It was a good reminder of what things were like. My need for a disconnection from reality came from that. The more I did it, the more I continued doing it. Art was therapy that transcended [my home life] and became something different.
Did you, in a sense, try to create something out of the left over things in your mother’s life?
The inspiration wasn’t drawn from the actual objects, but the intensity that I experienced in my life and the world. That clutter and the putridity of it; I mean, there were maggots all over the place. There were things flying around; I still don’t know what they were to this day. So, it wasn’t just inanimate objects, but rotting garbage and stuff like that. It was a dark inspiration. I was intimately acquainted with deterioration and death at that point. I was also hit by a car when I was eight, and my leg was set to be amputated. That was another brush with mortality. For a long time, my art was a place to put these things and give form to perceptions.
We lived in an apartment in Brooklyn. I lived in three different apartments until I went out on my own. When she did pass away, it was a real eye opener, because she wasn’t physically there, but we had to physically sort through the wreckage. In a sense, it restored her humanity, because the situation was so out of control that I had to disconnect again. When I left, our relationship was strained for obvious reasons. I almost had to compartmentalize it. But going through the stuff sort of restored her humanity, how beyond her control all of this was.
It sounds like art gave you an anchor to move forward despite these challenges.
For sure. Music and art have always battled for supremacy in life.
Did you get into metal around the same time you got into art?
For sure. I was into Iron Maiden, Metallica and Armored Saint.
You collaborated with Tom G. Warrior on the artwork for Triptykon’s first album. Do you think your partnership with him partially worked because you both had difficult childhoods?
I’d have to agree. Tom and I have spoken about our past. It’s been an anchor for us. It was such a great honor to do the artwork for Tripytkon. It was the perfect fit. I think Tom saw things in me that resonated on a different level and that might be why it worked so well.
How did you take your artwork forward into the world? Did you go to school?
Since I was always drawing, I was placed in gifted programs for art in the public school system. [But] I pursued art independently beyond of that. I went to Fiorello H. LaGuardia High, the Fame school, for art. I went for three years and didn’t graduate, although I did really well in art. I wasn’t in the space to be functioning that high academically. Again, things were pretty messed up.
I eventually put myself through a few years of art college for illustration. I decided I probably couldn’t apply my work in any commercial field [laughs]. They are training you to be a book illustrator or work in newspapers, and it was obvious that wasn’t for me. I felt like a black sheep in college. It was so systematic, with pre-made boxes, and it wasn’t happening for me. But I was continuing to make my own stuff. I’d show stuff to professors and they wouldn’t know what to do. I was working in blood by then, and a few teachers were like, “Are you crazy?” They appreciated the craftsmanship, but had no idea where it was coming from. It became apparent I had to do my own thing.
Do you remember the most appalled reaction from a teacher?
[loud laughter] Yeah, I do. It was an illustration teacher, an older man. I showed him a piece that was done in blood and he said: “What are you, sick?” He was half serious but also kidding. It felt like if you didn’t draw the way they taught in class that it wouldn’t work.
How does one make a decision to paint in their own blood?
It began as an experiment. I was doing pen and ink drawings. I was comfortable with the content and technique but I felt like something was missing in terms of intensity. So I started using small amounts of blood. There was pain involved but then something beautiful came about. It was like a birth; something was conceived. The art was intrinsically part of me; you couldn’t get a deeper connection with the work. I fell in love with the process and kept doing it.
How do you draw the blood you use?
Intravenously. It’s just like giving blood at the doctor, with butterfly needles and airtight containers. They are stored in the refrigerator. Sometimes I’ll collect thirty vials, sometimes less depending on the project. I try to get just the right amount for the project I’m doing.
What are the challenges working in this medium? Blood is an organic substance.
The material in blood that allows it to be used as a pigment is iron oxide. It’s the same exact substance in acrylics and oil paints. It’s as fixed and inert as any pigment. It doesn’t rot. It’s not the frail, crusty blood that chips. I work on seven foot rolls of paper. It doesn’t crack and it stays fixed to the canvas. It will hold up as long as the paper will.
So, if you take the same precautions with your artwork as another painting, it will last?
That’s correct. There have been cave paintings from 25,000 to 50,000 years ago that were done in animal blood that have held up. Granted, there is no light in caves, but 50,000 years is a long time.
Were any metal artists influential for you?
There aren’t many artists that I’d say were in inspiration, [except] maybe subconsciously. If I had to cite a few, [H.R.] Giger would be at the top of the list. Our work is in no way similar; it’s more the magnitude of his work and how prolific he is. Each piece is unique and incredible. Salvador Dali would be there, too – I love his work. There are a few others. I’m drawn to intense work.
There’s a pretty decent mix, but the majority are people aware of my work. There’s a decent amount that aren’t and are blown away. But there is usually a powerful response either way, because the work is as honest as it can be. I have a definite visual language. If I wasn’t honest in my pursuit and this wasn’t my life – if I wasn’t reflecting part of myself – this wouldn’t be worth doing.
Are there certain things you need to do health wise if you are collecting blood for paintings? Does it take a physical toll?
In 2008, I was painting for a Giger show, and my lung collapsed. There are some things that indicate that blood loss can cause lung malfunction. I had invasive surgery to get that corrected. It was pretty traumatic. At this point, I try to be mindful of the amount I collect and the space of time in which I collect it. I usually won’t collect thirty vials. I’ll try to get in the middle of that. I also take iron and some other vitamins to make sure I am physically okay. Beyond that, I don’t do anything else and I feel good. That was four years ago and I’m now one-hundred percent.
Before your mother passed away, was she aware of your art?
She was aware of it and was very proud in her own way. She was definitely proud of the decisions I’ve made in life and where I’ve steered my path. Once again, she was preoccupied with parts of herself that were out of her control. But she was definitely as proud as she could be.
Vincent Castiglia’s retrospective art exhibition Resurrection continues at Sacred Gallery in New York City through October 31. Get more details at this link.