Castiglia is a master of delving into the stations of the human condition, stripping away barriers between the art and self, and is a world renowned master of his craft who has poured literal blood, sweat, and tears into his profession for 22 years. The Vincent Castiglia Gallery & Custom Tattoo unveiling on February 22 in Fort Lauderdale, FL is the culmination of decades of painstaking artistry at the highest level, and we couldn't be more stoked.
We caught up with the celebrated artist (and damn fine heavy metal musician in his own right) for a deep dive into his life and career, the genius of working with blood, his personal connections to the metal world (ex-Fear Factory vocalist Burton C. Bell is set to DJ the opening), commissions for Slayer, Gary Holt, Triptykon, and Gregg Allman, his personal heavy metal hidden gem, and much more!
Obviously this is probably a hectic, exciting, stressful, and amazing time in the lead up to the opening on the 22nd. Take me through what you're feeling right now.
I'm feeling everything you said; excited, just looking forward to the opening and beyond. It's been the culmination of 22 years of both tattooing and painting, and I have finally found and created my own panacea, if you will, in the sense that the gallery is subdivided. So the gallery functions separately from the tattooing, but the tattooing is, again, half the studio basically. So it's split 50/50 and I can give equal weight to both the art and the artists I show and equal weight to the tattooing.
And that is my goal – to not only showcase the work, but to legitimize painting among tattoo artists to a greater degree, because in all forthrightness, the high art world looks down its nose at tattooers. So if you're a tattooer who paints incredibly original, groundbreaking, trailblazing work, it doesn't matter how masterful the stuff. If you're a tattoo artist, you're somehow not a "real painter."
And it's kind of goofy, and I think it'll become more understood and accepted and appreciated as time goes on. Just the way Banksy, whose work I admire, went from graffiti and street art, and cult and underground artwork, to being in museums. Museums will eventually have to acknowledge the efficacy and the absolute artistry, draftsmanship, originality, and creativity that the tattoo art form is and always was, and is evolving exponentially to be. So I believe that this space, not sort of, but 100 percent presents the two in that way with equal weight. And that's why the name of the gallery and studio is Vincent Castiglia Gallery & Custom Tattoo. It's wordy, it's long, but it covers everything because they needed to have equal weight.
You kind of answered a follow up I was going to have in terms of where you feel most at home or where your heart is, whether it be painting or tattooing. Are they equal parts of a whole to you? Or is there a place where you feel like you're a little more free?
There is definitely a higher degree of freedom among the fine art work because, unless it's a commission and there are some specs dictated by the collector, otherwise it's completely from what I would call a bastardized word. And you know, it's wholehearted. It was coming from the depths of my soul and it began as the only way that I could connect and communicate things that I couldn't share in any other way. And I did it in such a way that I felt could be universally accessible.
Now not every piece is universally accessible. Not everyone can hang some of my content on their living room wall. But that's even ironic because it's iron oxide that I used for blood. That's what's in the blood that allows me to use it. But ironically, it is medical professionals that patronize the work most frequently. I'd say about 70 percent of my collectors are either surgeons themselves or professors of medicine, or people who have a great understanding of medicine and the anatomy, because the work deals with the innards of the anatomy.
Can you take me through the genesis of your use of blood? What were some of those initial "eureka" ideas for dabbling in it and realizing that you could really create something meaningful and memorable?
It's funny you mentioned the word genesis. I'm not sure if you're aware, but the title of the show is Epigenesis … It actually refers to the now-accepted scientific law that no matter what the heredity is of a gene issuing from a parent, circumstances affect genes permanently. And so you could have all nurture and horrible circumstances, and that will literally affect your genes. You could have no nurture and horrible circumstances and be really in a worse off place. Or you can have nurture and pretty good circumstances, and your genes would take the form of whatever the outer stimuli that affected you would be. And this is my absolute being bare and like baring my soul because this is really a retrospective of work that's taken me again 22 years to paint cumulatively. And it's not all of it, but it's a good portion.
And it was blood let from a kind of place in my soul that needed to issue forth in those exact ways. And the inspiration initially for it, which is a little bit of a long story to speak generally, was that I had made art in almost every medium prior to that and experimented in everything; painting, drawing, charcoal, pastels, lower reliefs, and sculpture. I was in a really critical time in my life, and yes, it was that "eureka" moment. And it was the use of blood experimentally in small amounts that a truth was communicated. And when I say a truth, I mean, it kind of felt to me like it was primordial – a primordial truth was issuing forth that I could not replicate, duplicate or portray in any other way. It's like there's a pain involved in collecting it, and there was ultimately pain inspiring it, but it was a common thread of hope that has run through the entire body of work.
Burton C. Bell will be involved with the gallery launch, who is obviously someone who metal fans are no stranger to. I'm just curious how that friendship came about and how he came to be involved in this?
Let me preface this by saying first, I am not a fanatic, but I am a fan. And when I say that I mean, when [Demanufacture came out in 1995] was when I discovered them and I was like "what is this? I've never heard anything like this." Groundbreaking and everything was groundbreaking. The music, the lyrics, the concept, the industrialization of man and where it's leading, and so on and so forth. And the mechanization of and digitization of everything. But I respect him so tremendously. He's such a great guy and he's been a great friend to me and we know each other from the scene, from kind of backstage.
We had connected and kept in touch. And he was really cool. He would invite me to shows and invite me backstage, which was fucking cool enough. And we kept in touch. We'd text each other every once in a while. And then he was DJ'ing and I was like, "oh, Burton's DJ'ing." So I reached out and said "hey man, no pressure. I don't expect even a quick response. But I'm having this opening, and if you'd be down to do it, I'd be honored to have you." And he was like, "Fuck yeah, dude, I'm there. Like, I'd be honored" and to me that made my opening. Just the fact that Burton is coming and we're going to have a good time and his DJ'ing I know is going to be out of this world.
What are some of your earliest memories of heavy metal? For a lot of us there's kind of like a ground zero band, or a gateway band. Was there a seminal moment or like a "Holy shit, what is this?" moment?
Ground zero? Somewhere in Time by Iron Maiden. I was like that's it. I'm into metal. This is it. That's what metal is. And you know, Iron Maiden, Metallica, at the time Armored Saint, Death and also Death Angel. I mean, there's so many bands. At the time, Guns N' Roses was big, so I was into them. But it was Iron Maiden. It was Somewhere in Time that captivated me beyond all recognition. Not only was the music so inspired and so well composed, every aspect to everything they did was seamless and perfect, and non-arbitrary. Every note was not written arbitrarily. There was a meaning to every fucking thing those guys did. The synths, which I loved, which people felt one way or another about, I loved them. I think that they really add to the album. But anyway, Iron Maiden was my seminal band.
There have been a lot of bands and artists in metal in the last decade or so that have kind of crept up on everyone by surprise. Has there been something for you in the last decade, or even in recent years, whether they've been a hidden gem or become a new favorite?
It's a hidden gem, and it's one. One band has captivated my attention, to an obsessive degree where I could only listen to them for about a year. And when I say them, I mean him because it's one composer who plays and writes everything, and he is a genius, I think. The name of the band is Midnight Odyssey … Dude, the whole discography is as good as the next album. My suggestion would be to listen to "Asleep Is The Fire". It's about 20 minutes long. I don't know if you would like it or hate it, but to me it was the most original sounding, original anything that I've heard in 10 or 15 years. But, you know, also including a lot of other bands. You asked for a gem, a little gem in the rough. Well, that's him.
As someone who's had a lot of avenues into metal like being able to work alongside Triptykon for an album cover or on Gary Holt's guitar, what does that mean to you? Not only as an artist to get these really prominent folks loving what you do, but as a heavy metal fan to say "Slayer's guitarist is using my stuff." Being an artist and having someone buy your work is a very empowering thing, but having that other level of fandom attached to that must be a different kind of high.
It is, and it's a different kind of humbling, too. It's a high and a humbling at the same time because I am honored to be, again, recognized and appreciated by people were in my childhood and continue to be virtually heroes of mine and musical heroes, art heroes. And to connect with them personally? It is as surreal as the hardest trip you've ever had or whatever it is. And on a different level and the karma or for lack of a better word because that sounds dogmatic and eastern, but the energy that is taken on with these projects because it deals with blood, it's so intimate.
I mean, I remember when I was painting Gregg Allman's piece for his final studio album, which was like the greatest honor. He texted me on New Year's Eve and he said, "Brother. Would you do me the honor of painting my new album cover?" I lost it, I was like "Of course. Yes. Yes. Yes, yes. Yes!" We worked it out. He shipped me his blood. And it wasn't okayed by the record company until the last hour, and he had passed already.
So there was all this stuff going on on the news which I was watching, these tributes to Gregg. And I'm watching all of this and I'm painting and I'm sobbing, for a person who not only that I respect musically, but was the one of the kindest, gentle Southern gentleman I've ever met in my entire life. We had met on multiple occasions through his daughter Brooklyn. She organized the interview for Bloodlines, and she was also instrumental and essentially a brain child for the album art, because she wanted to name the album Southern Blood. And she got in Gregg's ear about it, and he was like "yeah, that's the title." So it was Southern Blood. So I send mad props and love and respect to Brooklyn and the Allman family because they were nothing but sweethearts.
And again, to connect with those that I've admired for 25 years or more is the cherry on top of the work that has been the Sisyphean sort of carrying that boulder back up the mountain for the last 22 years, and it was utter devotion tattooing all day, painting all night. And I would just cycle it like that, and that leaves little time for living a relationship, a normal one anyway (laughs). So I'm really looking forward and I do have pieces in the gallery that pay tribute to both Gregg and Slayer and Gary and Giger. Giger will be the theme of the tattoo portfolio in my office and the other side of the gallery, the gallery side essentially will be solely devoted to artwork.
For more on the art of Vincent Castiglia and his upcoming gallery and tattoo studio launch on February 22nd visit his official website!
*Photos courtesy of Vincent Castiglia