Q&A with July Artist-in-Residence Jewel Castro
The artwork of July Artist-in-Residence Jewel Castro engages Samoan history, transnational movement as it relates to cultural identification, Samoan art forms and production, and the artist’s relationships with her ancestors. Learn more by visiting the Kimball Artist Studio or our website.
Where are you from?
I was born in Chicago, raised in San Diego and Laguna Beach. My home is near Seattle, but I sometimes live part of the year in San Diego.
Where did you receive your art training?
I received a master of fine arts degree in visual arts from the University of California at San Diego in 1998. And I received a bachelor of arts with distinction in art with an emphasis in painting from San Diego State University in 1995.
In what media do you primarily work?
Right now my favorite drawing medium is acrylic ink. I also love the versatility of Nupastels. I paint with acrylics and my sculptures and installations are mixed media.
Who or what are your artistic influences?
There is no short way to answer this question. Oceanic culture and art forms and processes, especially those from Samoa, including siapo (bark cloth), fine mats, and tattoo, dance and song, jewelry, fishing, the natural environment, sea vessels, transnational movement, and architecture. All of these things influence my work in terms of its texture, the application of media, as well as the images or the configuration of objects because it has to do with my family experience.
My grandfather, the late Rev. Suitonu Galea’i, and the men of his congregation built a church in south San Diego in the early 1960s. Aspects of that structure and the life my extended family led on the church grounds influence every piece that I do.
When I make a painting I consider it in two ways: as a two-dimensional composition, and as a three-dimensional object filling and changing space. I refer often to religious paintings from the 13th century to the Renaissance. I also study murals of all periods but especially Chicano and Mexican murals, and particularly the work of Judith Baca, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. I study how their paintings integrate with existing architecture and how their compositions communicate epic cultural sagas.
When I was becoming an artist, I had an uncle who was a sculptor and made ceramics. He was my only Pacific Islander “fine artist” role model. I learned from artists I lived near, was taught by, and eventually worked with. Many of those were Chicano and Chicana visual and theater artists in California. They were committed, expressing themselves from the gut, from the bone marrow, and their art was readily accessible. By watching how they communicated their culture through their art, I slowly learned how to express mine. Several of my art teachers’ influence is still present in my work today, Janet Cooling, Patricia Patterson, Italo Scanga, and Richard Lou, to be specific. The artists whose work I love must influence my work too, because I study theirs so much: Romare Bearden, Annie Leibovitz, David Hockney, Do Ho Suh, Pablo Picasso.
If you weren’t an artist, what would you do? Or are you an artist full time? If not, what is your “day job?”
I think of myself as an artist full time. I also teach studio art courses at the University of Washington in Tacoma. I also write, curate exhibitions, and give talks. Usually I am simultaneously working in a variety of capacities. I think most artists know this situation well—I call it the “octopus mode.” If I were not doing art-related things, I would work as some kind of field or marine biologist. You could ask me about a variety of raptors, reptiles, and certain mammals and I might be able to tell you some things because the rural and beach locations in which I’ve lived gave me opportunities to watch animals for long periods of time. Toward the end of high school I was even accepted to premed for veterinary medicine—obviously I followed another path, but those interests are still in me. This spring my husband and I realized (after many experiments) that dolphins we’ve observed off the San Diego coast seemed to be attracted to singing—Polynesian songs of course. I got so excited that I seriously wanted to drop everything and pursue a degree in marine biology!
What is the one place you’d like to visit?
Two of my aunts spent time recently in an ancient spot on our family lands in Manua (in American Samoa). I’d like to go there and spend some quiet time for a while.
Jewel Castro will be in residence in the Kimball Artist Studio Wednesdays through Sundays from 1‒5 pm and Fridays 1‒5 pm and 6‒8:30 pm.