You Can Go Home Again

For Carlos Castano, a Manhattan-based artist, the journey to being a full-time painter began a world away?in South America. As a child in Colombia, he was already inspired to exercise his creativity via painting, and also, through music. He came to New York City in the late 1960s, knowing that he wanted to pursue an artistic career, but was perhaps a bit overconfident. It took some exposure to the New York art scene to humble him. “I thought that I had all the ability, that I was pretty good at it, but I realized how much I had to know, how much I had to learn.” Years of practice and training with the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design gave him the foundation he needed He took some anatomy classes and studied under teachers like Harvey Dinnerstein and Ted Seth Jacobs, who served as mentors and prepared him for the enormity of a life devoted to art. “I was able to start painting big and stretching the canvas,” he says. “It was the first time that I knew I needed to be freer with paint and use big brushes, and I had a broad vision of what I could do.”

A Study of My Father (oil, 14×12)

This experience also guided Castano to appreciate the painterly qualities of Spanish masters like Francisco de Goya and Diego Velazquez, qualities that still inspire his work, including A Study of My Father (at right). A Study of My Father was finished only a few months before Castano?s father?s death. Living so far away from his family in Colombia had limited Castano?s communication with his father to the occasional phone call. “So, going back, it was a perfect excuse for him to look at me and talk to me and give me hours where we could sit and communicate. Out of that came this portrait that I think portrays the spirit of my father,” he says. “It still has a lot of meaning because after my father died, I had all of these sketches and drawings of him around me.”

A Study of My Father began, like all of Castano?s paintings, with a charcoal sketch. He then reinforced the drawing and blocked in shapes. He built up the oil painting and incorporated an extreme range of tones in light and color. The process he uses has been refined over years of working with different strategies, but he still leaves room for corrections along the way. “The fact that I keep an open mind is very important because unexpected things happen, and the things you see in front of you in life are things that the camera cannot capture,” he says. His greatest pleasure from painting comes in the later stages of his process, but he?s not too concerned with perfectionism. “After I secure the drawing and the shapes are in place, I indulge in the luxury of more delicate touches on the surface. I may pick up a brush and draw a line that strengthens an area of the painting, or sometimes, I might undo something that seems overdone. I have no problem with scraping the painting to go back to the original concept.”

Castano works mainly on portrait commissions and teaches in his own studio. But when he has some free time, he deviates from his normal painting routine. “I do still lifes when there?s not a particular job to work on. I have a lot of fun creating a little world that I?m driven to by ideas I pick up, or by responding to objects, fruit and flowers,” he says. Whatever the subject matter, Castano strives to communicate with his viewing audience. “I like to convey something of my own spirit and temperament,” he says. “If I can express something that?s meaningful to someone who looks at it, that?s enough.”

Jerry McClish of Bradenton, Florida, is a contributing editor to The Artist?s Magazine.

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