Manny Castillo is reported to have remarked, “I’ve done everything I wanted to do,” before he succumbed to cancer at the age of 40 in 2009. The exhibit “Manuel Castillo: The Painting of a Community,” on view to August 31 at Museo Alameda, presents 16 works by 19 artists who worked with Castillo. Their tribute is proof of an ample life.
What started as a community art project for the organization Inner City Development became Castillo’s life work, San Anto Cultural Arts. The mural project he began on the Westside has now completed 40 masterpieces. The exhibit chronicles Castillo’s life as an artist/activist, but has traces of his personal life, too.
Perhaps they weren’t all that far apart. Set in vitrines are mementos from Castillo’s work with San Anto and proclamations dedicated to him from the City of San Antonio and State of Texas, displayed as if part of a commemorative altar. Video of his band performing is placed next to his drum set and dual turntable dub mixer; band posters and a jacket emblazoned “Taco Land, TX” are nearby. Copies of the neighborhood newspaper El Placazo, founded by Castillo, abound. The heart of the exhibit, though, is the collection of paintings by San Anto muralistas who worked with Castillo, each painting paired with a photograph of a mural that they directed as lead.
By Adriana Garcia is Confrontation of Self. The self-portrait, covered with red and blue veins and arteries, is painted in an almost classical style (save for the see-through skin). The palette echoes the colors of her mural Brighter Days, redolent in azure and gold at the Paul Elizondo Clinic on Zarzamora. Pushing another part of traditional Chicano mural stylings is Israel Rico, whose use of pre-Columbian motifs is seen in both his Legends Aztecas mural on Brazos Street and The Azteca Tree, an acrylic on view next to the mural photo.
Depictions of strife and redemption are common themes in the San Anto murals, which are foremost community art projects that speak publicly to the neighborhood. Though designed by a lead artist, the murals are executed by crews, and receive public input through the process. The conventions of Chicano Movement painting — social realist figuration and symbolic decorative elements representing notions of mexicanidad — abound.
The personal artwork by the San Anto muralistas at the exhibit, mostly paintings, present a broader range of forms, ranging from Cruz Ortiz’s text on foil banner to composite graphic design and expressionist figuration. San Anto mural coordinator Ruth Buentello’s taste for the latter is seen in her canvas of a mother and child, rendered without the fastidiousness often found in Westside realism. Broad, fat strokes of muted color are mixed with a judicious use of paint drips to convey a conventional scene in fresh manner; the unnamed piece is one of the most painterly in the exhibit, demonstrating a deft, confident hand.
In contrast to the tender scene, the photo of Buentello’s mural Piedad, located at Colorado and Buena Vista, shows a dark montage of violence. The police cruiser, shackled hands, and looming oilrigs might be found in a panel from a graphic crime novel about West Texas.
A stylized graphic cutaway heart accompanies a photo of Alex Rubio’s lush, accomplished low rider mural. Sections of the illustration are numbered; a key reveals different areas of the heart named as people. Rubio, who directs the student art program MOSAIC at Blue Star Contemporary Arts, has devoted much energy to San Anto murals.
The photographs of murals would benefit by being larger, but even as small prints they are key to the show’s success. The pairing of studio painting and murals maps the city in a personal way that lets us see through Manny’s eyes.
Manuel Castillo: The Painting of a Community
Free Tue, $4 adults Wed-Sun, all others $2
Museo Alameda, 101 S Santa Rosa
Exhibit on view to Aug 31