Beneath the Mask of Anton Del Castillo

Anton del Castillo, Hands of Faith, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.
Anton Del Castillo, OMG (Oh My God) Series 1, 2019. Image courtesy of the artist.
Anton del Castillo, OMG (Oh My God) Series 1, 2019. Image courtesy of the artist.
Anton Del Castillo, Hands of Faith, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.
Anton Del Castillo, Resisting Temptation, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.
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ART AND SUSTAINABILITY

Filipino artist Anton Del Castillo takes us into his studio and reveals his artistic inspiration and language.

TEXT: Reena Devi
IMAGES: Courtesy of the artist

 

One of the most visceral artworks I have ever encountered in recent memory was the first piece in a series titled “OMG (Oh My God)” (2019) by 44-year-old Filipino artist Anton Del Castillo at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands Artery pop-up showcase in January 2019.

Made of resin, wood and gold-leaf, the installation was a remarkable three-by-three meters, resembling altarpieces typically found in Catholic churches or Renaissance paintings, with sculptured figures in multitudes struggling against each other, fleshing out chaos and the animalistic vileness of humanity—a very specific portrayal of hell on earth. As if the work was not disturbingly macabre enough, there was red paint, symbolic of blood, dripping down the façade, intending to represent the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

 

Anton Del Castillo, OMG (Oh My God) Series 1, 2019. Image courtesy of the artist.
Anton del Castillo, OMG (Oh My God) Series 1, 2019. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

Such religious symbolism and motifs, including the use of an altarpiece to frame visuals or sculptures are not uncommon, especially amongst Filipino artists. Yet, with Del Castillo’s work, the viewer is hit immediately upon first sight, with an inescapable sense of our own humanity in all its quintessential emotional pain and primal glory.

Speaking with CoBo Social, Del Castillo said, “OMG portrays the brutishness that is actually worshipped in the altar of man. In this alternate altar, man brings his own destruction.”

I experienced a similar visceral sensation visiting his studio at his home in Manila in February 2020. Walking into the high ceilinged room, I came upon Hands of Faith (2017), comprising five life-sized pure white sculptures in ornate white chairs, representing five major religions—Christian, Islam, Hindu, Buddhism and Judaism—in the form of five men dressed in suits with skulls as heads. Del Castillo described using such stark imagery of skulls to represent “man’s immortality in his faith albeit his mortality in flesh.”

 

Anton Del Castillo, Hands of Faith, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

Next to these statues sat one of the most nonchalantly disturbing sculptures I ever envisaged—a girl in a dark, contemporary, expensive knee-length dress was seated elegantly, wearing a gas mask and holding a red apple with casual poise. Titled Resisting Temptation (2017), the hyperreal sculpture demonstrated that rather than being grotesque and gruesome, sin is something normal, presentable and enticing.

Looking at these works, the viewer feels almost instinctively the level of conflict and pain resonating from each curved musculature, or casual drape of fabric or even finely detailed gas mask.

In a world increasingly filled with concealment and toxicity around us, and within the deepest recesses of our souls, Del Castillo’s work incites overwhelming resonance and demand because it dares to pull these aspects of humanity into the light.

Del Castillo said, “These (artistic) explorations were the trials and conflicts that I encountered in my personal life. I was led to deeper contemplation, compelling me to explore works with more guts and spirituality. I also began to shift my focus on communicating to society the reality and struggles of life.”

Prior to these sculptures, he mostly produced work in metal, even creating a series in welded black iron, but “in pursuit of capturing realistic imagery in sculpture, I also learned how to work with clay and resin in order to render more realism in my works.”

 

Anton Del Castillo, Resisting Temptation, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

The gas masks mentioned above are typically found in all his sculptures, and even on the faces of people portrayed in his paintings, which possess a characteristic gold background. This highly specific imagery of gas masks also represents a connection to the emotional pain he grapples with in his art.

“I find my works in the gas mask series to be my truest form of art since they reflect my personal experiences and struggles. Men don masks to hide their realities of trials and brokenness. I think each one of us wears a mask that hides our real story to tell,” the artist said.

The religious overtones of Del Castillo’s art are undeniable and whether you agree with his beliefs or not, it imbues his work and the imagery he uses with even more primal intensity.

“It is also through my gas mask series that I was able to explore the concept of sin by allegorically portraying greed, envy, betrayal and conflict. We have seen a growing prevalence of these sins, and I think this is why my works under this series have particularly resonated,” he said.

Del Castillo also found that this newfound spiritual basis of his works—the pain and struggle of both the artist and the piece—increasingly resonated with audiences and collectors increasingly.

This was how he came to collaborate with art collector Hady Ang from Singapore, whom he met through Facebook in 2015. Ang is known for commissioning contemporary artworks connected to the topics of politics, immortality, God, and society, wryly abbreviated as P.I.G.S., a concept that is reflected in Castillo’s work.

Since then, they have continuously exchanged ideas in the manner of a mentorship, sharing views about art and life. “It is not common for collectors to have this certain bond and connection but I see in Hady an intense passion for the arts,” said Castillo. An important commission that came from this rare partnership is the aforementioned potently intense and visually entrancing series “OMG.”

Most recently, Del Castillo was the subject of a solo exhibition titled “Art of War” at Provenance Art Gallery in Manila, which featured a range of individuals in sculptures and paintings wearing gas masks while in fancy clothes, not so much in a bid to survive a toxic environment but also to conceal their true intentions. All the artworks were sold out. His art which has been shown at Art Fair Philippines for two consecutive years had also all been acquired.

Be it by the light of Christianity through which the artist experienced his own personal awakening or via other spiritual beliefs the viewer holds dear, the use of art and spirituality to mine our deepest and darkest emotions seems to have an indelible effect in our disruptive and divided times.

 

 

About the artist

Anton Del Castillo (born in 1976 in Tondo, Manila, Philippines) is a multi-awarded and critically acclaimed Filipino visual artist known for the stunning craftsmanship and meticulous design of his artworks that meditate on critiques of modernism and contemporary life.`{`1`}` His production of iconic and playful art objects such as sculptures produced in steel and paintings that resemble Byzantine icons, aside from other projects, have earned him recognition not only as an artist but as a master artisan and craftsman.

 


 

Reena Devi Shanmuga Retnam is a Singaporean arts journalist and critic who writes for regional and international media such as ArtAsiaPacific (HK), Hyperallergic (NY) and Artsy (NY). Previously she was a full-time reporter with Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore and TODAY newspaper (SG), breaking stories and exploring issues such as leadership, race, funding and censorship in the Singapore arts scene.

 

 

 
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