To say that Aldo Castillo has lived a colorful life would be an understatement.
The award-winning director of an eponymous Chicago art gallery was born in Nicaragua in the midst of a civil war. Instead of becoming embroiled in armed conflict, however, Castillo found solace in art, architecture and graphic design in Guatemala.
Castillo arrived in the United States in 1985 and studied at The School of the Art Institute in Chicago. After being granted political asylum in 1986, he worked for various companies and, in 1993, founded The Aldo Castillo Gallery, which specializes in Latin American art.
A tireless human-rights activist, Castillo has collaborated with entities such as AIDS Foundation of Chicago, the Nelson Mandela Children's Foundation and The Chicago Latino Cultural Center.
Windy City Times: You're celebrating your 10th anniversary this year. Are you where you thought you would be 10 years after starting the gallery?
Aldo Castillo: As a kid, I had dreams and knew what I wanted to accomplish. I believe that life will deliver whatever you ask for, so the answer is yes. I visualized where I wanted to be and here I am.
WCT: And where do you visualize yourself 10 years from now?
AC: That is a very good question. When you celebrate a mark, you automatically think about what is next—and this celebration is because the gallery is going through a new phase. I want to narrow things down to the business of art. I want to provide a venue and economic resources for artists. Historically, artists have struggled and, as you know, art is something we need to preserve—like an [endangered] animal.
WCT: How do you know when you see something you like or when something stirs a feeling within you?
AC: The honest answer is that everything you like is very personal, based on your experiences, development and exposure.
It's [interesting] how important art education is. Through the visual arts, I can actually measure how intelligent humans can be. When I first see a piece of art, I see how an artist can present an already exposed idea in a thoroughly new dimension; it can capture your attention and imagination. Then you look at things like technique and presentation and you realize the level of the [artist's] commitment. So I'm blown away by the quality and message of the work. I'd like to think that I'm turned on by the intellect associated with a piece of art.
WCT: Do you remember the first piece of art that blew you away?
AC: Yes. It was the Parthenon. In my art history book in elementary school, I saw a picture of it and spent weeks drawing it. I didn't know I was an artist then. I loved everything that went into the Parthenon: the architecture and the history.
As I got more involved in art, I saw the works of Gaugain and Van Gogh, the typical European artists we all know. They had new philosophies.
WCT: Do you want to talk at all about the circumstances that brought you to this country from Nicaragua?
AC: Before, it was really easy for talk about it because I was really angry, but I'm over that. It was so many years ago. The only thing I can tell you today is that I'm always suspicious of the United States government. The Nicaraguan dictatorship tortured and killed thousands of people. The revolution overthrew the dictatorship and Reagan and Bush didn't like it so they created the contra revolution. 250,000 people died. So when I see things like the Iraq situation, I'm suspicious.
WCT: Let's get back to art. Do you still have people who will go to someone's home and recommend a piece of art?
AC: Yes. It's a common service of galleries.
I originally wanted to make this a non-profit gallery, but politics [are often involved]. What I wanted to do was provide exposure for Latin American artists in a city I absolutely adore. I always consider Paris, London, New York City and Chicago to be four incredible destinations.
WCT: What do you like about Chicago?
AC: (Smiles) Well, you're gonna laugh. Chicago is full of fascinating stories, like about [gangsters]. But I love the architecture and the people are kind and gentle, like in a small town.
WCT: What does it mean to you to be able to support Latin American artists?
AC: It means a lot. This is one of the most powerful countries in the world, yet it needs a lot of work. Power and money don't give you everything. There's judgment about race. The healthcare system [is not the best].
I see how ignorant some people can be; some people actually think that 'Latino' is a race and we're not a race. It's 'Latino' because we speak Spanish. If you ask me what my race is, I honestly do not know. A lot of people are mixed; we call ourselves 'mestizos' but when we come here we have to deal with labels.
It was important [to have the gallery] because there's confusion in the world and we need to clarify things. The arts give you room to talk about any issue.
To me, there's no such thing as African art and Latin art—it's just art.
WCT: Let's talk about technology. How has it helped your business?
AC: Well, technology is key in my business. It allows for my connections all over the world with the media. I can broadcast everything about the gallery (like the history and inventory) over the Internet. It's easy to [conduct transactions] with the computer. The most important things are that I'm able to display more than 500 pages on my Web site and that I can communicate with thousands of people around the world.
[Strangely,] Chicago is where I have faced the most opposition. Like Art Chicago has rejected me eight times in a year [regarding participating in the Art Fair]; they said they didn't have enough space. [Also,] Alan Artner, the main art critic from the Chicago Tribune, has refused, in 10 years, to review any Latin artists at the gallery—but he did come once to review an artist from South Africa. [Through technology] I can highlight all areas. I want to integrate, not separate.
WCT: Do you have a favorite art form?
AC: No, I don't have a favorite thing. I'm so glad you ask me questions like that. My main thing is doing sculptures but I appreciate what other people do. [For example,] dance is amazing. I look at the Joffrey Ballet, River North Dance Company and the Joel Hall Dance Company and they take my breath away.
However, I'm very tactile. I like art forms that involve touching. Even with my lovers, I explain to them that they're going to be touched a lot and it drives them crazy.
You can view the fine works of art at The Aldo Castillo Gallery at 233 W. Huron St. in Chicago or you can check out www.artaldo.com . Tickets to the 10th anniversary celebration May 31, with guest speaker Ald. Tom Tunney, are $75 per person, $125 per couple and $35 for Aldo Castillo Art Club members.
This article also appeared in the May 14 Windy City Times Business & Technology series, sponsored by IBM.