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Meet Ruben Castillo

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

Hi Ruben, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I grew up in a small suburb outside of Dallas, TX and moved to Kansas City in 2008 to go to the Kansas City Art Institute. For the past 14 years, I’ve remained in the greater KC area.

Because of the time I’ve spent here, I’ve built a lot of connections with the KC arts ecosystem. I’ve seen it change in many ways too (good and bad). But as a result, my time here has really shaped the type of work I engage in, as well as how I work within a larger arts community.

Connection is really important to me and that’s really helped by social media. Having a platform to share my work and see the work of my contemporaries is crucial.

I took an internship as a studio assistant at a young age with a North Texas artist, and that was incredibly formative in shaping my tenacity towards the arts and my career. That internship really shaped behaviors to hold on to (and even some that don’t work for me) as I’ve been navigating a creative life. He was also an educator (as well as my art teacher in high school), and seeing both sides of his life really inspired the direction I took things.

Teaching and making art are both intrinsically linked to me. I get so much creative fulfillment from the exchange between me and my students. I feel like I’m always learning, too. They teach me as much as I teach them. At least that’s how I’m feeling right now. That could very well change as I get older and my own work/life develops.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
I think the major thing I’ve had to do is embrace change (which is really hard for me already). Uncertainty in life is inevitable. But what’s made it all possible are the relationships and community that have been built upon mutual aid and support. I’m deeply thankful for all of my relationships that have been the push I’ve needed to get me where I am today.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I create image-based work that focuses on intimacy around the everyday. Primarily, my work revolves around printmaking and drawing but incorporates photography, installation, and video.

My research focuses on theories of queerness and affect (or how we process the world through emotions). Much of my work on intimacy is focused on the queer couple and how we see their trace. Some of my most known work examines my own archive of documentation around mine and my partner’s bed.

I’ve been drawn to images of pillows and beds for nearly a decade now, with Felix Gonzalez Torres’ billboard photograph of two sunken-in pillows being a major influence on me.

In 2013, I started documenting my shared living space with my partner, and the bed became a site I returned to often in my photography. I started amassing these photographs to use as references, and in 2015 I made the first print featuring our pillows.

I choose intaglio printmaking as my primary method of image production due to the texture that’s possible with etched copper. I’m drawn to the romantic gesture of etching the ephemeral into metal as a form of permanence and transformation. With printmaking, a drawing or a photograph or a texture gets a life beyond its initial form. I like this idea that the process “makes” something “special.”

My most recent work has been exploring change and transformation, taking inspiration from ecological models and symbols next to my images of domestic life. This work is a response to the stillness of the first Covid-19 lockdown, creating imagery about generosity, reciprocity, and change.

What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
For me, tenacity and desire have been the biggest motivating factors in the moments where I’ve succeeded. I’m an anxious individual, and it was immensely meaningful to see anxiousness (as an idea) compared to care or caring.

In her 2010 book the Promise of Happiness, Sara Ahmed writes that to be anxious is to care for something that can bring happiness. But I feel like this question is super “individual” focused. There are so many things one person can do, but I often think about taking on how taking on those “many things” can actually get in the way and overwhelm an individual.

I really believe in the power of community and mutual support. Particularly after the pandemic, I found it incredibly important to be honest with myself and others, particularly about what was possible. Being direct and knowing to ask for things like help have been immensely beneficial.

I actually believe that an individual is only as strong as the community that they keep with. If it wasn’t for the connections I’ve made, I wouldn’t have the success that I do have or the successes that I will have.

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