Passion for Painting and Guam

December 28, 2016 Leilani Techaira

Sticking out from beneath a floor-to-ceiling curtain, in the middle of a sunny afternoon, were two little feet. They belonged to a young Ric Castro, immersed in that hidden space where his talent and imagination merged. With pencil in hand, fantasy scenes of warriors and dragons flowed from his mind to paper.

“I’ve been drawing since I was very little,” says Castro. “My love for it is second nature.” With the encouragement of friends, family, and teachers, as well as his admiration for his artistic older brother Ron Castro, Ric continued to invest in his passion for art. Following in his brother’s footsteps he studied commercial art at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. It was when he enrolled in the institute’s one painting course that he found his love for a new medium.

Within his first year after graduating, Castro found himself in the middle of a big shift in the art industry. He left a classroom where he built ads using an X-ACTO blade and created graphics on the first Macintosh computers. Working for agencies as a graphic artist and art director, he pursued a career in commercial art for six years. He was at the peak of his career, on stage receiving an award during the annual Guam Press Club Competition, that he felt a need to return to his true love: fine art.

Castro applied and won the Pacific Fellows Scholarship, giving him $40,000 to attend a school of his choosing. He turned in his resignation to his boss and went back to being a student. He received his certificate in classical training for painting and his bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. “Even the best artists have the hardest time surviving off their paintings,” he explains. “That’s when I realized that I couldn’t just be a painter. There’s truth to the term ‘Starving Artist.’ ”

He chose to teach at the college level like his professors, and got accepted at his alma mater where he finished his Master of Fine Arts degree.

During one of his summer visits home he was persuaded by his friend and fellow artist, the late Joe Babauta, to apply for a teaching position at the University of Guam. Initially intending to move to New York after the summer, Castro ended up going back to the home he missed. He has since been a professor at UOG for the past 16 years, enjoying the freedom to dive into his own work and give back to the general public through teaching. “I found out I loved teaching. You have these kids who are eager to learn, and they are a product of your art form,” he declares. “You’re leaving that legacy for the new generation. That’s when I realized there was something to this that was bigger than me.”

Nowadays you can find Professor Ric Castro in his studio, wearing a paint-speckled apron, brush in hand. Standing in front of a 4 x 4-foot masonite panel, Castro is ready to paint. He’s beginning a new piece for his current project: Junglescapes. The painting will be added to a 200-plus-piece series that started in 2003. It will be photographed and placed in a book with the same title.

Junglescapes was stumbled upon by accident. Abstract art is his forte, but Castro needed to produce demos in the form of narrative pieces for his art classes. He would reference photos of the jungle he took from his family’s beach, Jinapsan. He donated a number of the pieces to the UOG Endowment Foundation for a silent auction, where it was met with praise and success. Over two years his collection increased from 50 to 60 pieces.

With encouragement from Babauta to produce a book out of the collection, Castro began his deep exploration of the island. Starting in the north, moving to central areas, and eventually into the jungles of the south, he photographed his surroundings, accompanied by photographer Victor Consaga. The two would embark on elaborate hikes. “That’s when the series became about showing parts of the island [that] not many people have seen,” says Castro.

From views on the top of rolling hills of the south to jungle-laden waterfalls and pools, Castro shot all of them and brought not only the photos back to his studio but a lot of memories of each place as well. He would mix with acrylic paint all the beautiful hues of lush Guam and apply it onto canvas and panel. He recalls a moment when he was hiking far into the interior of Fonte Dam: “I felt like I walked into a time warp. It was as if I was looking at a scene from old Guam, before the Spaniards came. I envisioned an ancient Chamorro coming to the pools to gather water for his family. It was inspiring.”

Castro hopes to have the series completed by the end of the year, and the book in production at the beginning of 2017. He currently has a little over 150 pieces with the goal of 200 to close the series. “I want to show Guam as pristine as possible, and to the people, that this is their home,” he says. “This series is my interpretation of the island. This place is a treasure, and I can’t wait to share it with the world.”

The project is just one of many that Castro is working on. He is excited to finish it, and eager to begin concentrating on others. He’s working on illustrations for children’s books—some commissioned and some his own—and commissioned paintings based off his Junglescapes series. He is also looking forward to returning to abstract painting. “My abstract work is based solely on my inner emotions,” he explains. “I’m not using references to produce it, it’s everything inside of me being put onto a canvas.”

Castro wears many hats. Besides being a painter and a professor, he is also a single parent to three boys. Finding the balance between all three means pulling himself out of his studio to spend time with his family. He reflects on the importance of having the potential to be immortalized through one’s own art. “I want to be able to leave behind a legacy that my family, and the whole island, can be proud of,” he says.

With Junglescapes coming to a close and all his current projects moving forward, Castro starts to think about future goals. Guam is in the middle of a mini renaissance, and he wants to build upon it with more exposure to the visual art community. His dream is to open a gallery on island to showcase its emerging artists. “We are a creative people,” he declares. “It shows in how we promote our culture, and it’s time to celebrate that.”

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