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Meet John DeCastro

Today we’d like to introduce you to John DeCastro.

John, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Ever since my youth, I was strongly captivated by the act and process of drawing. My kuya and I always used to draw together. We’d draw our favorite video game characters.

When I was 14, this hunky football player asked if I could do his art homework for ten dollars. He had confidence in me that I didn’t even have in myself.

It wasn’t until I turned 15 that things took an unsuspecting turn. My parents separated, my father left, and my sister passed away — all in the same year. I believe the emotional unstableness and chaos it put me through, shifted the way I perceive the world. This would have a profound impact on my overall outlook on life.

Thankfully during the heartache, my cousins and friends were remarkably supportive. They’d become a huge part in pursuing my personal art. We were all doing photography, video, music, or dance. They would take me on adventures into the LA night sky. They were constantly uplifting my spirits and teaching me new things about the world. Art became my therapy.

I started personal paintings at the age of 16. I believe it saved me from my teenage recklessness, drugs, and rebellion. I loved painting with the color black. I felt the color had a strong association with boldness or bravery. The color would symbolize the passing of my sister. I would continually use black in its reference to eternal rest and to discover peace, beauty in the mundane, acceptance, and liberation in the unknown.

Today, my craft uses unconventional materials and dismantles academic traditions in art. I try my best to be inclusive about the work. I’m always exploring new ways to correspond narratives and mythology to my queer Filipino American identity. Creating is something that has continually grown into fruition for my spirit and wellbeing.

My recent works involve collaborating with artists I’ve held deep connections to in LA. We collaborate by painting together, sharing ideas, documenting, and critiquing.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I believe no matter where you are in this world or whoever you’re becoming, mistakes and failures are just part of the package. In my case, the road was frequently bumpy with some turbulence, but never anything I couldn’t handle.

I always looked up to my mom. She was born in Hollywood, California, and raised in Manila, Philippines. She returned to LA when she was 18, and she told me all the jobs she worked while attending college to make ends meet. I saw my mom graduate and she was devoted to her passion. We were always on the same page! She’s the first person that pushed me to pursue my art. She was the person constantly telling me that the world is my oyster! She would tell me about my great uncle Federico Aguilar Alcuaz. He’s a renowned national painter in the Philippines and Spain from my lola’s lineage.

My father wasn’t too fond of who I was because I’m gay. He’s a devout Catholic who could enjoy a glass or 2. He was pretty strict with my brothers and me, so I was forced to mature at a young age. This made sense because he came to America from the Philippines when he was only 15. He dropped out of high school due to language barriers. He’d continue to work blue-collar jobs, and actually opened his own automotive shop. He was quite serious most of my life, so it was harder to have a connection with him. He decided to leave my family when I was 15 and hasn’t returned since.

The most difficult time for me was keeping my composure and emotional stability when my sister passed away. I didn’t know how to express my thoughts, and I remember making decisions I never thought I’d have to make. It was an intense time, to say the least.

I always had this tiny hope in my heart to create regardless of the turmoil. I knew if I couldn’t do the art for myself, I’d do it for my sister. Art saved me from trauma. I healed myself through acceptance, support, love, and creation.

We’d love to hear more about what you do.
I’m always trying new things aside from painting or drawing.

Just last year, I earned a scholarship to fund my first trip to Tokyo, Japan. It was for research and studying abroad. I actually met up with my classmate and close friend Moeka Suda, an artist too. We roamed the streets of Shinjuku, took the crazy subways, ate delicious food, and saw beautiful art. Traveling is exciting for me because it gives me the advantage to bullet journal and research artists. I studied Keith Haring and Robert Mapplethorpe at the Watari Contemporary Art Museum in Harajuku.

When I was 21, I curated a show alongside my friend Kristine Dizon. This motivated me to pursue my personal works to the public. It was my first time selling a few pieces for charity. I’d then continue to show my art in public spaces and events in Los Angeles and Glendale. While I was showcasing my works, I was offered to become a Grumbacher Fine Art Instructor at Michael’s in 2015.

This is my fifth year instructing painting and drawing classes. This helped my communication skills, understanding paint, and broadened my way of helping others creatively. I’ve taught all kinds of great people.

The way I create has become freer from restraint and less pragmatic to typical expectations in fine art. April Bey, my previous professor taught me how to utilize cheap material in a variety of simplistic ways. She guided me to understand a deeper identity and language in myself as a creative.

Just recently, I had the opportunity to bend Neon at The Museum of Neon Art better known as The MONA in Glendale. This was alongside my previous professor, Kyla Hansen. She taught me how to transcend the meaning of my work through physical mediums and material. This made a crucial impact on sculpting as a new medium for my practice.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Success to me is being able to do anything that brings you consistent joy and happiness.

I believe being successful is focusing your joy and happiness inward rather than outward.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Pablo Emilio Castro

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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