Robert Castillo


Maya Exhibit 2023

“Mayan Water Lily Jaguar”
coffee & acrylic on unprimed canvas
32×34” (81x86cm)

The Mayan language is a unique blend of phonetics and logography, allowing the Mayans to express any word through their intricate glyphs (Christenson). These glyphs were found in numerous codices and even painted on ceramic vessels, including the glyph that inspired the jaguar of this painting. This glyph was likely created around 900 AD, as all codices “spared from the flames of the Inquisition are…relatively recent” (Robicsek).

Upon closer inspection we can see that Castillo has added a chromatic aberration affect to the water lilies, as well as the head on the ground. Mayans and jaguars were intimately linked, sharing space in the rainforests and also in Mayan mythology. The jaguar represented the keeper of the underworld, and the use of chromatic aberration here comments on how plants may have been used to induce psychedelic states, possibly also perceived as the underworld/another world.

Additionally, the painting features designs made from coffee grown in the Yucatan peninsula, the grounds of which are adhered to the unprimed canvas. Copies of all four remaining Mayan codices can be found at the LaBudde Special Collections Library at UMKC.

“Portrait of my Father”
oil on canvas
20×39” (51x99cm)

Pictured here is Castillo’s father, Roberto Castillo, during a family trip to the Dominican Republic. Castillo’s mother is Dominican, though Roberto was born in Nunkini, a small town on the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. Growing up in Mexico, Castillo’s father spoke the Yucatec dialect of the Mayan language. This piece was created during a turbulent time in their relationship, and had a role in its eventual mending. This piece was created with the oil glazing technique, in which a medium (in this case walnut alkyd) is mixed with a thin amount of pigment to create translucent layers through which light passes to create a luminous effect. Underneath the layers of color is a grissale and underpainting. Click here to view a video of the process. The frame was designed in partnership with Boris Stancic, who carved the design with assistance from a CNC machine.

Carrara marble

This marble imported from Carrara, Italy depicts a Mesoamerican figure with mushrooms sprouting from its head, paying homage to the rich history of indigenous cultures and their relationships with psychedelics. Castillo is highlighting that indigenous communities have long been familiar with the transformative effects of psilocybin, with recent research suggesting that it may enhance neuroplasticity. Beyond just celebrating indigenous traditions, this piece (created entirely without power tools) serves as a thought-provoking reminder of the European colonisation and its lasting impact on indigenous cultures in the Americas.

 Robert Castillo is a jazz bassist, composer, electronic music producer  oil painter, and stone sculptor. Castillo was born in Kansas City, Missouri to a Dominican mother and Mexican father who speaks the Mayan language. Although he has a formal degree as a jazz bassist, in 2018 Castillo accepted the challenge to produce enough paintings to host solo show. This first exhibition was very successful and Castillo has been painting and displaying his work since. His oil paintings cover may themes, subjects, and styles, including photorealistic portraits, bright colorful geometric abstraction, and homages to his Mayan heritage. Castillo has most recently been creating stone sculptures and plans to continue exploring with various stones. In the fall of 2022 Castillo released a collaborative electronic music album with a friend in Mexico City who specializes in Mayan instruments that features two poems spoken in the Yucatec dialect.

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