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Meet Pilar Castillo of Castlepillar Design in Ladera Heights

Today we’d like to introduce you to Pilar Castillo.

Pilar, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Last night a friend well versed in botany likened me to the rare flower Epiphyllum Oxypetalum, a plant whose character epitomizes my own. These similarities extend into the sub-tropical regions of Central America where I was first uprooted, arriving a wild orchid yet like a cactus, grounded myself determined to survive the voyage from Belize to Los Angeles. As a transplant like many a variety of hybrids in LA, I did not come in search of stardom. Instead, my mother walked across desert and border under the cover of night, following the stars for safety. Many of our families still bear the scars of this journey, the shame and injustice of the crossing. Now more than ever, I find strength and honor in the stories of my parents.

The secret life of a transplant often takes root in darkness, in corners of the city where delicate and exotic plants are edged out by more resilient forget-me-nots. This particular landscape of Los Angeles can be brutal, the reality of losing loved ones to gang violence, addiction and injustice can be as catastrophic as earthquakes. I have yet to recover from that loss, and I dedicate these words flowering from my heart to my dear friend Mel Tramaine Dunn, a prolific writer and poet; one of his pen names was the ‘Inglewood Prince.’ He would self-publish our work and that of his peers under Honeystoned Publishing, named for the way he would roll blunts, lined with honey to make it sticky and sweet. Tramaine inspired in me a taste for the word, and an obsession with creativity that devours the night. Today I visit him at the southern edge of the Inglewood cemetery, where his headstone faces the setting of the sun; engraved in black marble with the image of an owl and feathered quill pen. I share his LA story as one of the brilliant stars of this city that made his way across the night sky unseen and unsung.

The mysterious bloom of the Epiphyllum Oxypetalum appears once in a four to seven years cycle, and only at nite from mid-summer to early fall. For this reason, the night-blooming orchid cactus is otherwise known as Queen of the Night, revealing herself close to midnight and fleeting with the dawn. My own nocturnal nature has often been threatened by insomnia, found to be suspicious in many a relationship and guilty of fading into the morning light. The night takes on a peculiar calm, bringing me close to obsessiveness. I paint and illustrate for hours, depictions of dreams and surreal landscapes. I write poems longing for home and academic papers advocating for counter-narratives in history, literature and the arts. I combine layers of curiosity with research, and ancestral intuition with experimental approach, creating hand-made objects that typify my hybrid experience.

Recently I produced a counterfeit of the standard issued U.S.A. Passport made to mimic the book structure and content of the original. More importantly it confronts the official document to question its validity in assigning value to people’s lives and their labor. It recollects a history of exploitation against immigrants and laborers, from cotton plantations to chain gangs, boarding schools to internment camps, from voter suppression to the current humanitarian crisis at the US-Mexico border. Yo soy Centro-Americana! And for this reason I make work that responds to these issues, that serves as a record of protest and indignation.

Queen of the Night is no delicate flower, with a complex root system that invades the darkness and surfaces to the light in an explosive display of petals and sepals dangling from undulating branches. I am aware of this intensity, of hibernating and with a burst of energy baring my soul.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I literally grew up along an unpaved road in the rainforest of Belize, Central America, on my great-grandparents farmland. Like the generations before me, we were born into poverty, no plumbing nor electricity, but rich in love and imagination. My mother would pave the road for us in search of ‘a better life’ in the U.S.. I followed my parents lead as a matter of respect and honor, guiding me to pursue higher education and independence. I made it to UCLA for undergrad and to Otis School of Art and Design for my MFA, and looking back now it seems it was all part of a greater plan. These achievements in themselves pose challenges for an immigrant family, a family of color and a young woman with dreams of being an artist, not a lawyer, doctor or engineer. Yet they gave me the freedom and courage to be myself. Choosing to live a life against the grain is its own challenge. My choices in life have been contrary and deliberate, believing that scars are beautiful and a sign of ‘living.’

The issues that affect my life as a woman, an immigrant, a person of color – are all concepts at the center of my work. As a political artist your work remains at the edge of controversy and poverty, rarely a commercial success with mass appeal. So I also make work that is light-hearted, embellished and design forward. The challenge with my work, as in life, has been to find a balance between the center and the edge.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Castlepillar Design studio was created in 2018 with the completion of my MFA from Otis College of Art and Design. Establishing the brand as an official business entity was a manifestation of my goals moving forward. Having over a decade of self-initiated creative endeavors in both public and private studio practice, I was ready to shift my creative process into commission based studio production. Having studied and trained within the epicenter of design influence from my field studies and design collaborations in Amsterdam, Belgium and Cuba, I gained perspective on the impact of design in global communication. As a designer, it gives me the opportunity to reimagine how visual communication can shape our landscape with a sense of belonging to a global community. The tropical landscape of my childhood continues to inspire in me a vibrant aesthetic and efficiency to work beyond the limits of materials and access.

My approach to design is concept-driven and research-based with both technical and experimental outcomes. My work ranges from a variety of visual mediums to graphic design, traditional to digital illustration, publication, and textile design. Most recently I’ve been highlighted among up and coming LA designers along with the opportunity to design a series of Los Angeles postcards for the LA Original collection, a creative initiative commissioned by the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles. Including artwork commissioned for the launch of LAX Terminal 1 event campaign for Los Angeles World Airports.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
It’s not so much a matter of yes or no, it’s complicated. In terms of inspiration, networking opportunity and an abundance of creative projects, LA is certainly thriving. As a result, our city is also saturated with artists and designers in every creative field imaginable. This makes for a diverse and eclectic scene, but it also sets the stage for a competitive field and overall lower wages. Our proximity to Hollywood also seems to influence a more commercial standard in creative output that dilutes the quality of the visual media LAndscape.

Contact Info:

  • Website:
  • Email:
  • Instagram: @castlepillar

Image Credit:
By Pilar Castillo

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