An interview with blood painter & tattoo artist Vincent Castiglia October 5, 2016 – Posted in: Artist Interviews, INTENEBRIS Interviews – Tags: art, artist, artist signature collection, Autopsy of the Soul, blood, Bloodlines, collaboration, dark art, documentary, Exodus, Gary Holt, HR Giger, interview, jewelry, John Borowski, necklace, painter, pendant, Remedy for the Living, slayer, tattoo artist, vincent castiglia
I’m sitting here with Vincent Castiglia. He is world-renowned for paintings, which are done in his own blood and for his tattoo work which is absolutely outstanding. I’m lucky enough to have some of his work on my arm myself. Author & film director John Borowski is currently finishing a biopic “Bloodlines” about his life and art, and will be hitting shelves soon. You may have recently seen him in metal music headlines for having recently collaborated with Exodus/Slayer guitarist Gary Holt, on a signature guitar he painted in Gary’s own blood, which will also be reproduced in a limited edition and made available to purchase by ESP guitars. How are you Vincent?
VC: I’m doing great thank you, Jonathan.
JS: For who might be new to your body of work, could you give a little introduction? What is your work like?
VC: I was born in Brooklyn, New York I continue to live in New York. I’m a painter and tattoo artist and my paintings could be considered figurative surrealism. That would be probably the most concise way I could describe it, because they’re human figures that I’m painting and the content would, or could be considered surrealistic. I work exclusively in human blood.
JS: How did you first come to to use this this is a medium and what, logistically speaking, was it like to try and find a way to get such an unpredictable medium to a point where you can manipulate it?
VC: Took a decade. I started in small amounts of blood in the beginning. I was letting it into spoons and working quickly before it coagulated.
JS: That must have been a nightmare. To have to work so quickly under pressure.
VC: It was difficult it. It was difficult, it was messy, it was inefficient.
JS: Did it look a lot like a crime scene? (laughs)
VC: Yea, on some days it did! As the requirement for blood increased, because the size of the paintings increased, I needed to collect it intravenously. And that’s when that started. I collected into Vacutainer tubes and refrigerated them.
JS: So when you first started, how big were your pieces?
VC: My first pieces were relatively small. I mean the biggest ones were… 20 x 30. Which aren’t very small, but I was still just experimenting at that time and finding a groove.
JS: When you first started using blood as a medium, I understand you were still in college. F.I.T. right?
JS: Same school we both went to.
VC: Yes, that is true. And my professors mostly thought I was… ill.
VC: Yeah, mostly thought I was insane.
JS: So by that point, you had already began tattooing? And you were in a band.
VC: Yeah, I was tattooing for number of years already and actually had a nearly full-time tattoo schedule while I was still taking classes and it just made up my mind for me. I wasn’t going to continue. I wasn’t going to be using, If I got my degree, in any corporate sense so I just withdrew at that point and pursued my personal art full time. At the time, I was in a band called Human Decline and we were a deathcore band; that’s what I would describe it as. From Brooklyn, all of our members. It was a serious project. It was something that we all put a lot of work and love into.
JS: And you’re releasing another album soon?
VC: Yeah! Actually, a label in Baltimore is releasing this “Remedy for the Living” CD 11 years later and I’m excited about it. We don’t know if we don’t have a concrete date yet but it’s in it’s in motion
JS: So about 2004 is when you decide to start painting exclusively.
VC: I was experimenting with it, I was using it in mixed-media pieces so they were really intricately rendered pen and ink and blood works. And 2004 was when I started using blood exclusively
JS: There’s that one piece that I’ve seen with mixed-media; “Origin”. The one with the man being suffocated by what I’m assuming is Saran-wrap.
VC: That’s micron pen and blood. That was 2003 I believe, and it was an illustration of the origin of futility relative to the conscious being. Relative to the human being, in that the moment one is conceived, you are subject to the futility of inevitable death. The moment the sperm meets the egg; the origin of futility. It’s all set up already. And in some sense before we exist physically, we exist infinitely.
JS: Around that time is when it seems your art began to gain traction. And then you met H.R. Giger. How did you first come into contact with Giger?
VC: I had initially participated in a group show at the H.R. Giger Museum/Gallery and that was where Giger so my work for the first time in person and that’s where the beginning talks about a solo show took place.
JS: No pressure haha.
VC: (smiles) Oh yeah. And man you know, there’s no words to describe how important Giger’s work has been, how important Giger as a person was, and still is to me. Having been acknowledged by Giger in that way was like a dream. I could’ve died then and been at peace.
JS: May he rest in peace. This inevitably lead to your first solo show which was entitled Remedy for the Living. Many of what came to be your best-known pieces were in that particular show. One of which was “The Sleep”.
VC: Yeah, The Sleep was in my first solo show which hung at the Giger Museum/Gallery for six months from 2008 into 2009 and it’s become a kind of iconic image of mine purely by chance. I had painted it at a very intense and difficult time.
JS: There’s a recurring theme from what I’ve seen your artwork revolving around the concept of life and death.
VC: It’s a mystery that has intrigued me since the beginning of my life, like the fact that we couldn’t exist at one point and then not shortly thereafter and.. and what is consciousness? What is reality? What is the physical world? The coexisting presence of death among the living is a common thread throughout the work, and the figures embody that by their apparently animate bodies and stances. The falling away of flesh and the ability to see into and through the figure is a part of my visual language. It’s a way of illustrating the temporal, transient nature of all life. And what does that amount to? At the end of the day, we have a limited amount of time here, and it should in some way force the viewer into a state of emergency; a kind of existential emergency in that you should seize the moment, and do with your life all that you can.
JS: Memento Mori.
JS: Another recurring theme in your art, one perhaps much less obvious to the viewer.. I myself would not had noticed were it not for the opportunity to speak with you about it.. but there is also the recurring theme and element of the microcosm and the macrocosm. Which is actually also present in “The Sleep”. Could you elaborate on why this is a significant concept?
VC: Because the relation is intrinsic. And like a hologram; each piece of it, each little fragment of it, the whole is reflected in. Within ourselves, each individual human being, all life really. Animals, the whole cosmos. It’s something that the ancients have represented in so many different ways. In so many different cultures. The Egyptians for example, and western occultism. I had initially drawn this sigil of sorts in significantly altered state of consciousness. I later looked back on it and it’s meaning revealed itself in that way, that this was actually the relation of the microcosm to the macrocosm. And this painting was the first in which I painted it. (motions to enormous canvas print of “The Sleep” on his studio wall)
JS: So The Sleep was really the piece that began the whole inclusion of the micro and macrocosm as elements in your paintings?
VC: Yep. It was the first of many. The piece itself (to me) depicts mortal man asleep in the arms of a force greater than itself, which is fully awake but the mortal is completely unconscious and is completely oblivious to his own state and what’s cradling him. And it’s not a benevolent force. Ultimately it’s one that looks that way, but it’s a blind force. It’s one of might, it’s one of destruction, it’s one of the various forces at play in our human interplay and in the cosmos. The seeds that are falling out of his head are actually thoughts or dreams being harvested by the central figure.
JS: It’s been quite a while now that you’ve been painting and blood. Do you feel, now that you’ve produced such significant works over in the time you’ve been using blood, like you’re going to continue to use this medium or will you explore others?
VC: My whole reality has changed so much over time, and the work relates to life so intimately for me. I had to ask myself that question not so long ago; do I need to continue painting in blood? Because the place it initially came from and was inspired by was… was one of great pain, and you know, I’m just not in that kind of pain anymore. I have my moments but.. I meditated on it and came to the conclusion that; Yes, this is the medium that I’ve, not to sound dramatic, but that I fell in love with. It was the one substance that accurately communicated everything that was going on inside of me that harmonized itself with the content of the work, and there was this completion of a perfect kind of conceptual circle. It was human figures in human blood, in various stages of decomposition, but they’re somehow still alive. Kind of like the blood that’s just a disembodied and is still alive but it’s being translated into an image. So as much as I’m interested in exploring other mediums, like sculpture, this is my medium it’s not one that I’ll be deviating from anytime soon.
JS: You’re currently in the process of creating your latest body of work; Autopsy of the Soul. Care to shed some light on the subject matter and how it relates to where you are now in life?
VC: The “Autopsy of the Soul” concept for me was… looking outward. The “soul” here is actually the world’s soul. There are aspects of myself reflected in it, but this was a meditation on the forces at play in our world today. For example “Beauty and Truth (Not Forgotten)” are the literal embodiments of beauty and truth today and they’re represented as obviously deceased. They’ve been examined and sewn back up, but they’re not forgotten. The observers viewing them even in their deceased state and the piece for me, is a communication that there is a lack of both of those things in our world today. It seems that all creative fields for example have been systematically stripped away of all of the things that made them special, and exciting, and inspiring. You know, our music, film and we’re left with these corporate mechanisms by which the most lifeless soulless products are being manufactured, and are parading as art and music and film and so on. And I hate to make such a blanket statement because of course, there are plenty of inspired creators that are still working, it’s just that the vast majority, and the powers that be settle for the candy-coated… completely manufactured and formulaic results of this mechanism. I like to think that the pendulum swing has already begun, and that some albeit small group of individuals are taking initiative and not conforming and staying true to themselves and not editing themselves and censoring themselves so that maybe in the not so distant future there will be a renaissance of sorts.
JS: yeah I agree. I believe people, corporations go by proven formulas with the goal in mind of making as much money as possible. They’re playing it safe. I’ve seen it in every creative field for sure. I don’t think there is any doubt in any lucid person’s mind this is exactly what is going on for sure. We’ve seen it in like the past what… like the past 10+ years of music? Films are not as experimental or exciting as they once were. I feel strongly that there is so much artwork that is either contrived or apathetic which are equally unfortunate, I feel.
JS: So you very recently made music headlines. You painted a guitar for Gary Holt from Exodus and Slayer, in his own blood! It does not get more metal than that. What was it like doing that?
VC: Its been an honor working with Gary, I grew up on Slayer. The first metal show I’d ever gone to was in 1994, at Roseland Ballroom. It was Slayer, Machine Head and Biohanzard, and the place was being ripped apart. Wow, what a completely different scene it was from then to now. But that show had such an effect on me. It was like experiencing a new force of nature. Then to someday have the honor of my physical painting played on stage with Slayer almost every night, it’s just mind-blowing.
JS: Absolutely incredible. I will definitely be catching them on their next tour. I’ve been listening to them for many years.
JS: When I had first come across your art, I believe it was in Last Rites Gallery in NYC. As a colorblind artist, I found myself really drawn to the color palette. The medium, even after I learned that it was blood, to me came secondary to the fact that the composition, textures, and subject matter were some of the strongest and most thoughtful I had seen. I had actually come to appreciate your tattoo work separately. As you know, and as many people know, Giger was a tremendously important influence to me in my life as well. And his passing was nothing less than a life-changing event for me. I guess you could say I’m a bit of a snob (not a secret for sure hahaha), and thus I had been looking and looking and looking for the who I deemed to be the perfect artist for what I wanted done on me. My intent to get a biomech sleeve was something I sat on for over a decade and it had never changed. Around the time of Giger’s passing, I came across your tattoo work while looking at Giger-esque sleeves online. I was floored. I then connected the dots and discovered that you were that same artist that I had seen in those galleries. It seemed to me finally that it was the perfect time to make that piece a reality. And so here we are working on full sleeve Giger tribute piece comprised of several iconic elements from his work.
VC: It’s it’s always an honor to Tattoo Giger’s work and I do my best with it it’ll never be a Giger painting that’s for sure but I take it seriously and likewise. it’s been an honor working on you and with you and I’m really excited to see where it all goes.
JS: Yea man. It’s been pretty surreal. I’m very proud of the work that I have on my arm, and I’ll treasure it for the rest of my life. And through getting this is Giger tribute sleeve, I’m really thrilled and excited to be able to say that I think we put together a really awesome collaboration.
VC: I have to agree and likewise I’m excited.
JS: What is it like for you being there to see your work in three dimensions? And did you ever envision your work being made into jewelry?
VC: I had always wanted to, but… you know I couldn’t see how it would become a reality, and it’s been a trip. I really personally love the piece. I wear it, the prototype. It’s it’s been a favorite of mine. I love it. Seeing it translated from 2D to 3D allowed me to see aspects that were not in the original work.
JS: It’s been not only a lot of fun to work on this piece. This particular piece stands out to me in such a way that it’s been really exciting to have been given the opportunity to sculpt it. How was it for you seeing the production process unfold?
VC: Prior to this collaboration I have not seen any of the behind the scenes jewelry making process so seeing this and again watching it come to life’s been been inspiring and informative.
JS: Yeah the process behind jewelry making is not unlike the way traditional sculptures would be reproduced and sculpted. It’s just that at a smaller scale, certain features have to be exaggerated so that they make it through the production process to show at the end. It was a big challenge to get some of those textures in your painting to translate at such a small scale, but in the end I think I managed to make it work.
VC: Yeah I mean that that was a big concern of mine, which you know you nailed it, scaling it down so far from something so large, and the potential for the detail to get lost is high. But even at such a small scale I believe that a more than sufficient amount of subtle detail is all there, so I commend you for that.
JS: Thank you, I appreciate that. And very soon, the public; newcomers and your collectors alike, will have the opportunity to purchase one of their own and see that detail for themselves.
VC: Can’t wait!
JS: Alright man, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for sitting down to chat.
VC: It’s my absolute pleasure.
INTENEBRIS X VINCENT CASTIGLIA: THE SLEEP (limited edition)
“The Sleep”, a limited edition collaboration between Vincent Castiglia & Intenebris designer Jonathan Silva, is a sterling silver necklace sculpted in the likeness of his titular blood painting from his 2006 body of work, “Coagula”.
The presale link below will become live tomorrow, October 7th at 6pm EST.
You can follow Vincent on his social media or purchase his original artwork here: