Artist of the Week: Marcos Castro on Reimagining the Artistic Status Quo

Marcos Castro ’22, an art major, began his time at Swarthmore studying S.T.E.M. When he took the course Asian Art: Past and Present, however, he became fascinated with art as a full-time pursuit.

“Learning about how people write about ethnic art made me really think about how people would write about the kind of art that I would make, and made me think that I would want to be a part of the canon,” he said in an interview with The Phoenix. “I realized there was not that much that people say about ethnic artists, and I thought, ‘Let me be one of them.’” 

Photo by Isabelle Titcomb

Marcos’s primary mediums are oil paint, drawing, sculpture, and, in his own words, whatever’s around. Now, Marcos is dedicating all of his time to art, filling his schedule with classes in modern European art history, ceramics, drawing and painting, an independent study in drawing, and his senior studio. 

When asked about the distribution requirements, Marcos described their multifaceted role in his academic career: “I think they have been both a hindrance and also the reason I got into art at Swarthmore.” 

While distribution requirements caused him to initially branch out and find his calling and to think about how art impacts the world, they have also limited the amount of time he can spend with art.  

On how long he’s been involved with art, he commented, “I feel like everyone does art their whole lives, right? Ever since you pick up a pencil you learn what art is and keep doing it. But I hadn’t done art seriously until I got here.”

Although it was the Asian Art history class that sparked Marcos’s artistic path, his other sources of inspiration include aspects of life and community that reckon with identity and ego. Marcos, who takes inspiration from Latinoamericano art, questioned how one can communicate identity through art, and reflected on his own life and experiences in Houston, Texas. 

He said, “I try to pull literally everything from myself; I try to make a lot of Latinoamericano art, but mostly what’s inspiring me right now is just my life, my history, and trying to find how to communicate my ideas of identity through a medium … That’s what’s been inspiring me: how do we distill our identities? Art is ego. Art is who you are; you can never escape that. That’s what art history is about; you can never escape the ego of the person who made the art … So I try to just look inside myself and look at how other Latinos look inside themselves, and see what common identity comes up.” 

As Marcos considers how his art is an expression of his identity and core experiences, he also reflects on his inspirations and the value in reimagining traditional representations of art. 

“I started off with still lifes here, so I wasn’t thinking critically about identity until very recently. Now I’m doing a still life of objects that I’ve frequented in my own life: my hats, my boots, things that are integral to my identity –– rosaries, objects that I find around, because usually [still lifes are] just fruits and bottles, and what about things that are a part of my culture that I don’t see very often in the media?”

Marcos’s art is also centered around the Mexican music with which he grew up. 

“Music is one of my biggest inspirations … I listen to a lot of stuff that comes from Mexico because that’s just what I grew up with, and I found this old 1950s album.” 

The album, a collection of Mexican cantina songs by Los Cadetes de Linares, was curated in 1999, but the songs date back to the 1950s and 60s. While Marcos was drawn to the cover image of the album, the music itself depicts hardship and loss in Mexico.

“The image they chose to show who we are was of hats and boots put in still lifes. I would never have seen that elsewhere … That really affirmed my instinct to, at least in terms of my Mexican-American experience in my own life, say these are Mexican things.” 

During the height of the pandemic, Marcos went home and worked a job separate from his art. As his community was especially affected by COVID-19, art became paramount as both an escape and a source of solace.

“I feel like art is always an extension of one’s own reality.” Marcos said, commenting on how the pandemic has changed his art, and the power in accessing oneself when examining identity.

Readjusting to Swarthmore was startling, as Marcos felt the stark differences between his experience with COVID-19 in Houston and life at Swarthmore.  

“I was fighting for my literal life in COVID hell in Harris County in Houston, hungry as hell. I was the only one working for my family at the lowest possible pay grade and at Swarthmore, COVID seemed ‘not real,’” Marcos said. “It was hard to adjust to all this money everywhere when I couldn’t secure more than $9.25 to have people cough in my face.” 

Currently, Marcos is working on a piece relating to color studies, as color often interacts with light in studio art. Marcos’s latest work uses vibrant, contrasting colors to create a still life from a new perspective, infusing his own cultural experience into the genre while simultaneously playing with subtle motion and depth. 

Photo by Isabelle Titcomb

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