WORDS / CORRENE SPERO
“These beings are social; they’re just trying to survive, navigate, and explore,” Matthew Castellano explains about one of his signature artistic inventions, “Trackers,” numbered humanoid beings with an air of magic and mystery to them.
We are discussing “Tracker053,” which appears to be beyond gender and wears a bright red covering of some kind. It is barefoot and strums a banjo while a green leafy plant grows out of its backpack beyond its head and up towards the sky. There is a lightness about it, and also something eternal. “Like a ghost, but vibrant and welcoming,” Castellano corroborates.
Working in mixed media with a unique and vibrant creativity, Castellano’s work bridges illustration, watercolor and acrylic paint, street art, intaglio, and multiple printmaking techniques. He defines his career as an artist by his output and his evolution. “I’m showing, I’m selling, I’m learning new media and new processes.”
During a recent visit to his studio, my eyes dart from one brightly colored work in progress propped up on an easel to framed pieces ready to be shipped, and then to a series of illustrations laid flat on a table, which will eventually become the background of a website in development.
On one shelf lie the results of Castellano’s work with electrolytic etching on copper plates and intaglio printmaking, mediums he has been working in during the past two years, and which allow him new artistic freedoms. “I’m impatient, so I like fast drawing, and this gives me the opportunity to capture that freehand line but with permanence. So really, it’s a new way of doing an old thing.”
While many of us hibernated through the pandemic, Castellano has stayed busy, showing his work when possible and adding “published artist” to his list of credentials via the release of “Tracker Kiosk” through Fluke Publishing, an offset of Fluke Fanzine. The Trackers in “Tracker Kiosk” appear with respirators and gas masks that look simultaneously futuristic and from a time capsule. Castellano describes their new gear as “filtering and protecting from something.”
“My work’s a way to process a very difficult time we’ve all been through,” he adds. “I want to keep that wonderment about finding hope in a difficult situation, so I like to make them colorful. They’re masters of their domain. They’re barefoot for a reason.”
During this challenging time for artists, Castellano has maintained his relationships with the local artistic community as a member of the Arkansas Society of Printmakers and as a board member of the Little Rock Art District. While rooted in the Central Arkansas art scene, Castellano says he feels connected with artists in other parts of the state.
From January to May 2020, his work was shown in a collection of zines at Little Rock’s Historic Arkansas Museum, which came about through an invitation from Olivia Fredericks, an artist from Fayetteville. As a result of the zine exhibit, the Fayetteville Public Library purchased two of Castellano’s zines for their archives.
“Living in Arkansas has given me access to approachable artists from around the state,” he says. “You can go to shows and talk to people. It’s not out of reach, compared to where I’m from in Miami. I find support from others when I need it, and in turn, what I learn, I can pass along.”
This October, Castellano’s creations were brought into a therapeutic space via a show at Argenta Counseling, which offers counseling services to children and families in North Little Rock, and his art was also shown at Gallery 360 in Little Rock.
Shine, a show Castellano co-curated, opens Nov. 19 at the Laman Library in North Little Rock, showcasing his work along with the work of three other artists: Karina Labrada, Trenton Meeks and Kai Denton.
When I ask Castellano how he reads the current temperature of the arts in Arkansas at this moment of the pandemic, he admits it’s still a struggle, but feels optimistic. “It’s hard to know who will or won’t come to your shows, but things are coming back.”
For now, Castellano is reveling in the joy of showing and viewing art in public again. “When I opened my show in Argenta in October, there was another artist who opened a show down the block, and I had such a wonderful time just going to look at their art. For me, that moment needed to happen. That’s my element; talking about art, promoting other artists, and building relationships and understanding.”
Shine at the Laman Library in North Little Rock will be open for viewing during regular library hours from Nov. 19 to Dec. 3. Admission is free.
Photo: “Dusk & The Golden Knife (Tracker066)” – watercolor and ink