Joe Castro - new narratives from old stories -
An Artist spotlight on Joe Castro, a Philadelphia based collage artist with both his feet place in DIY history.
Artist spotlight, collage art, collage artist
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Joe Castro // Artist Spotlight

Creating new narratives from old stories


When I was a kid, trying to emulate Jim Phillips’ iconic Rat Fink or Screaming Hand on virtually everything that I owned was just part and parcel for being a pimple-face skateboarder with a Super Cuts version of a Tony Hawk wave. For many people, the artwork and the illustrations by artists like Jim Phillips, Pushead, Andy Takakjian and Ed Templeton were the first true introductions into what could be achieved if you dedicated yourself to artwork and passion. Skateboarding was a true misfit sport at that time, and yet here were these icons, these artists, creating amazing designs to decorate essentially a slab of wood and four wheels. They defined a generation, and set many youths down a path of teen angst, rebellion and creativity.

 

43 year old, Philadelphia native Joe Casto, was just one such youth. In a recent Q&A that we conducted with him, he confessed that the DIY aesthetic of the skateboard and underground music scenes had a major impact on him as he was developing himself as an artist.

 

Growing up skateboarding in the late 1980’s—watching guys like Mark Gonzales, Neil Blender, Andy Howell & Natas Kaupas (who were all only a few years older than me) create new tricks as well as their own board graphics and brands—that along with the whole zine culture that permeated that scene, opened up my mind quite a bit as to how I wanted to live my life.

 

Here we are now, two and have decades later, and one can still see the influence that the Do-it-Yourself, punk-zine culture has had on Joe’s work—the deconstructing of vintage pop culture or advertising images to build and create a new narrative is still visible, but more refined. Of course, the craftsmanship by which he constructs each collagé of images far surpasses what you would have seen from a feature on The Cromags in Maximum RocknRoll, and his work is less “in your face” with teen angst and rebellion. It is far more mature, and has a depth and artistry that begs first to be admired for its composition, but then allows you to ponder of the intention of the images used to create the narrative.

 

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The cultivation of knowledge that one gains—not only as one ages, but as an artist develops a long relationship with a particular style—shows in the immense collection of work that Joe has created in his artistic career, and he admits that his influences and inspirations have also matured beyond looking directly up to skateboard or musical icons.

 

Honestly, I take more inspiration these days from the person rather than the work they produce. I read/watch a lot of interviews with artists and, even if I’m not a fan of their work, sometimes their methods or their ideas about life or the creative process can be incredibly inspirational, especially as I get older. I mean, at this stage in the game, I try to look inward for visual direction as much as possible.

 

Yet, while his inspiration has since evolved beyond that of skateboard graphics or the style of musical groups like The Smiths, The Stone Roses, The Clash and Nick Cave, one could say that you can take the man out of the music scene, but you can’t take the music scene out of the man. Even though Joe’s work is not explicit in skateboard or musical references, it still finds a commercial home in those scenes through custom skateboards and gig posters. His work has found it’s way onto unique designs for bands like Pavement, The Districts and Death Cab for Cutie and he has been collaborating with electronic music label called Rhetorical on the artwork for all their releases. It has also found it’s way into the fashion realm as well, as he was recently commissioned to do a series of collages based on the signs of the zodiac for Glamour Germany.

 

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It can be said that Joe’s work is both fuel for his wallet and food for his soul, as it is both commercial and fine art. His work is currently hanging in Latela Art Gallery in Washington, DC and he recently started working with Zebra One Gallery in London, and he admits that he is pounding the pavement to expand that list.

 

I would love to have some pieces in a museum collection, obviously. But, it wouldn’t hurt to make enough coin to pay the electric bill either.

 

Although, I never got a chance to hop on a jet plane and visit this talented artist on the streets of Philadelphia, I connect with his work on a much deeper level now that I have learned more about him and his process. It comes from a place of familiarity to me, and now I can look at his work with new eyes. In his closing statement to me, Joe stated that, “I just want to create great work, something powerful that moves people. Just push things forward and go as far as I can”. His work definitely make me feel something—so in that regard, I believe he has succeeded.

 

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Category
Visual Arts