Latino Chamber of Commerce’s 2016 Latino
Expressions from the HeART
Castillo (l) with
exhibition in the
lobby and her
2015 exhibit at
the Latino Art
Show that won
her first place at
By Jonathan Gramling
When she was a little girl, Leticia Castillo developed her artistic craft just because of the beauty of it. Living in Mexico City, She and her sister
began to draw free hand from figures they saw in a coloring book.
“I’ve always been involved in art,” said Castillo, the 2015 winner of the Latino Art Show. “My first time that I remember doing a drawing was a
Flintstones drawing that my sister and I were working on. She is four years older than me. We were trying to draw this picture and I wanted to
make my drawing look nice. It was a picture that my sister said that she was going to draw. And I said that I wanted to draw it too. Seeing that
my sister was doing a good job, I said, ‘I can do it too.’ So I started having the obsession about making sure that my drawings were looking
exactly like my image I was drawing. That’s where I got my obsession about making sure that everything looked exactly alike.”
Although her family knew little of art, Castillo’s father noticed his daughter’s interest and talent in art.
“He bought me a table, like an art table, and he got me a bunch of paper and he told me to start drawing,” Castillo said with fondness.
Castillo didn’t take any formal art lessons until she moved with her family to Whitewater, Wisconsin when she was 12-years-old and took art
classes in school. Castillo, who comes across somewhat shy, was in a foreign land and didn’t know any English. And so she turned to art to
express herself and to let people — and herself — know who she was.
“Art has always been my own world where I was able to communicate,” Castillo said. “In art, I expressed my journey coming to the U.S. In my
middle school, we painted this huge panel. And I painted my journey to the U.S. I hope it is still over there. We moved to Whitewater. That’s
where I went to middle school, high school and college. I stayed there until after I graduated and moved to Madison.”
Castillo majored in art and Spanish at UW-Whitewater. And it was there that she had her first exhibits.
“I specialized in oil painting when I was at Whitewater,” Castillo said. “I wasn’t a real artist until I graduated from college because in college,
you pretty much follow what the professor tells you to do and what concept to do. But after I graduated, I kind of felt, ‘Okay, now it can be about
me and what I want and how I want it without anyone telling me what went right and what went wrong.’”
While Castillo now had the freedom to be the artist that she wanted to be, she also was worn out by the experience.
“I was undecided on what I wanted to do,” Castillo reflected. “After college, you get so burned out that you want to give yourself a break. I was
doing a job that I found. And it just took me a while to go back again. Actually, two years ago is when I started to paint hard core again.”
Castillo started painting on canvas once again and last year entered the Latino Art Show held in the Overture Center’s Promenade Hall and
took first place in the competition.
This year, she was selected to exhibit her work in the lobby of the Overture Center as last year’s winner in order to highlight the upcoming art
show. Castillo decided to create new works for the exhibit and to venture off in a direction that she had always wanted to go.
“I’ve always wanted to get away from canvases,” Castillo confided. “Everyone paints on canvass. I wanted to do something different and get
out of that comfort zone. That’s why I came up with the wood idea and do it life size.”
And so, Castillo created a series of life size paintings of images from her native Mexico on sheets of wood.
“The wood comes from a huge sheet,” Castillo said. “I go from photos. All of these people are models, people whom I asked to pose for me.
From a photo, I will guide myself to get the outline of the drawing. And then my husband would cut it for me. After it was cut, I would paint it
white so that I could add the detail on it and then start painting. It was a long process. My goal was to finish one per week including tracing it
on the sheet of wood, cutting it and prepping it to paint it. I created these specifically for this exhibit. I work better under pressure.”
The four paintings are of different aspects of Mexican culture or lore.
“The lady at the end, it’s a story that my parents used to tell me when I was little,” Castillo said about a figure seemingly arising from a mist
emanating from the floor. “We would be on the streets all day. And my mom would tell us, ‘Make sure you’re home before the sun goes down.’
Obviously we wouldn’t listen to her and we would get in big trouble. That’s when she used to tell us the story about La Llorona who would take
the kids who were on the street. When I got here, I started seeing and reading different versions of La Llorona. Right there is part of my identity.”
For Castillo, it is a matter of identity.
“People ask me, ‘Where did you get the idea of the wood and the concept,’” Castillo said. “Well, it’s my identity. That’s my number one thing, my
identity, where I come from and things that I grew up with and things that I left at home. Honestly, I feel proud of where I have come, the result
of everything, how it started up until now. I feel really happy. Art was a way to express myself. It’s like my own world where it’s just me and no
one else understands me. I’m telling stories. I’m telling history. I’m telling folkloric dances that I have seen and I like. In one way, they all
connect to me.”
As we sit in the Overture lobby across from her paintings, a mother and her children stop to admire Castillo’s work. Castillo smiled.
“I had worked at a private school,” Castillo said. “One of the teachers contacted me and said, ‘Hey, I heard you have some work at the
Overture Center. Is there any way you can meet us?’ I did. And people were stopping and viewing my work, which is very nice. It’s nice to see
the people’s reaction.”
Castillo will continue to paint after the end of her exhibit and the Latino Art Show, which is being held Friday, October 7th, 5 p.m., at the
Overture Center. And she will continue to make her art her own.
“I’m a crafty person, so right now I am thinking of an idea of painting on clothing and pillows,” Castillo said. “I’m always thinking of a way to
keep myself painting or doing something. I will keep looking for other media to work on besides canvass. I’m walking away from canvasses. I
like faces and landscapes. But most of all, I like to paint the human body.”
By sharing her own Latino identity, Castillo has forged a new artistic identity, one that is an expression of the heart.