This exhibition is equal part still life, landscape, and figure paintings.
I began as a still-life painter and remained so for many years. In my first semester at the NY Studio School, my teacher, Mercedes Matter, set up an elaborate, complex still life and told us to spend the semester working on it. She taught us to focus on the intervals and spatial tensions among objects; the objects themselves were less important, fractured as in cubism. However, objects and their relationships were important to me—as metaphors for human relationships and interactions. Objects huddle, stand in the foreground or the background, lean on, obscure, stand-alone, stand out, couple up, bump into, and cast shadows on one another. These remind me of human interactions, relationships, and feelings associated with them. Usually, I exaggerate the human attributes as I re-arrange (in reality or solely on canvas) objects until I am satisfied with the composition.
I first got my footing as a painter when I discovered that I had an affinity with the work of Georgio Morandi and Piero Della Francesca. The quiet intimacy and mystery of their paintings appealed to me. In them, I saw myself, or at least a part of myself (I have another part—more on that later) that values stillness, intimacy, and mystery.
Morandi spent days, even weeks, arranging a still life before beginning to paint; I never had the patience. At first, I would arrange and, if the composition didn’t work, re-arrange, add, or omit objects and continue painting. Gradually, I developed a method: set up a still life, paint from observation until I hit a roadblock, look around the room for objects and ideas, then only on the canvas rearrange, add, and omit. Often I stop looking around the room and simply invent.
Matisse wrote, “A distinction is made between artists who work directly from nature and those who work purely from imagination. Neither of these methods should be preferred to the exclusion of the other. Often both are used in turn by the same artist...” This and another quotation (which I could not find) went something like this: to get away from the danger of unimaginatively copying what one sees (something I sometimes succumb to), it is best to have the model on the first floor and the easel, paints, and canvas on the third. This is more or less my method, although in my tiny studio the “model” (still life), which I glance now and then, is behind me.
In The Eyes Have It, I borrowed an idea from Chardins’s Soap Bubbles—the boy behind the ledge.
I set up a still life, started painting and added a head behind the far edge. I decided that the back end of the table was too low on the canvas, so I raised it, starting with a line where I where I wanted the edge to be. As I painted out the face (from bottom to top), I noticed that an eye looked like it was on the table (it is now showing through a bottle) and the top of the head was slicing up through it, looking like an inverted bowl. I liked the mysterious, surreal quality—the eye would become a light-motif of the painting.
My small landscapes are usually from direct observation and often succumb to “unimaginative copying,” except for the ones shown in this exhibition. The White House, and Frederica’s House (the same house from different points of view) and Casina II were completed in Italy where I was on an artist residency. They came quickly, in one session. I started Elizabeth in the Field in Italy but worked on it, on and off for months, in my NYC studio.
Two of the figures paintings, Oops! and Drowning, derive from life experiences. Oops! Is an attempt to recapture my (in)experience with a kayak and my wife attempting to help me (although some people say it looks like she is pushing me over). The composition derives from Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes. As you can see, it has undergone serious revision:
I was once caught in a wave and rescued by a stranger. The final version of the painting, Drowning, is nothing like the place I experienced it, but it expresses my feelings of the event. It evolved over months of painting, scraping, wiping out, subtracting, and adding figures that, unintentionally, look to me like human jellyfish.
As I said above, the quiet intimacy that I value in many of my still lifes is one side of me. I also want to express feelings of an anxiety and turmoil, as well as joy and humor. Perhaps Self Portrait-Fire captures two sides of my personality; the self-portrait reminds me of the impassive stillness of a Piero, the fire, turmoil, anxiety, and fear. A similar opposition is, perhaps, captured in Variation on a Theme by Matisse, but here it is joy versus the threat of it being destroyed:
I paint landscapes, still life, figure compositions, and interiors based on perception, memory and fantasy. By means of color, light, space, gesture, and narrative (metaphorically in still life paintings) I strive to express emotional states or moods, which can vary from somber to light and fanciful. For me, color is the most important of these modes of expression. I want my paintings to stimulate the viewer’s intellect, yet be easily grasped, and sufficiently complex to reveal themselves over time.
Castellana has been exhibiting his paintings since 1965, has had eighteen one-person shows, and numerous group shows. He is a member of the Blue Mountain Gallery in NYC and a former member and director of the Bowery Gallery. His works are in many private and public collections at FFAST Fondazione Fremantle per Artisti Stranieri in Toscana (Fremantle Foundation for Foreign Artists in Tuscany) and Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU). He was a founder of the Interdisciplinary Studies program at Fairleigh Dickinson and is now retired. He has had artist residencies in Italy, where he has also exhibited, and at the Vermont Studio Center. He studied at the Art Students League, New York Studio School, and Queens College. His teachers included Edwin Dickinson, Charles Cajori, Mercedes Matter, Esteban Vicente, and Louis Finkelstein.
Art Students' League
New York Studio School
Queens College, MFA program (no degree)
Harvard College, B.A. in Biology
New School for Social Research, M.A. in Political Economy; Ph.D. in Economics