Fear and Folly: Francisco Goya and Federico Castellon

By Liu, Annisa | The World and I, June 2010 | Go to article overview

Fear and Folly: Francisco Goya and Federico Castellon


Liu, Annisa, The World and I


Though separated by about 150 years, Francisco Goya (1746-1828) and Federico Castellon (1914-1971) often appear closer to one another than to their contemporaries. Both artists turned their attention to the human condition.

In the recent exhibition "Fear and Folly: The Visionary Prints of Francisco Goya and Federico Castellon," at Michigan's Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, legendary literary works and artistry collide. The two artists were represented by important print series from the KIA's permanent collection, notably Castellon's lithographs for Edgar Allen Poe's The Masque of the Red Death and Goya's etchings from Los Disparates (or The Proverbs).

Many artists have been drawn to things dark and fantastic, but few have probed the human condition with the insight and truthfulness found in these images.

Federico Castellon's family emigrated from Spain to Brooklyn, New York when he was seven years old. Supplanted into a world of strangers and an even stranger language, Castellon discovered his innate artistic ability allowed him a conduit for expression where his native language failed. A fundamentally self-taught artist, Castellon took advantage of his relocation and visited the many museums in New York as a teenager to gain influence from the Old Masters, and then moved on to study the modern artists of his time.

While his teachers recognized his ability, it was not until Castellon created a mural for his high school that he attracted the attention of established artists and critics in New York. Demonstrating modern European influences that set him apart from his peers, the piece was exhibited in a museum as his first public exposure. Impressed with the ability of the young man, Diego Rivera, a modern artist at the time, took Castellon under his wing and helped him procure a four-year fellowship. Ending his formal education, he traveled throughout Europe and studied both painting and printmaking while simultaneously exhibiting his work alongside other Spanish and American artists at museums in France and Spain. When Castellon returned to New York, he began to branch into a new medium: lithography.

He used this medium to create the illustrations for The Masque of Red Death, a classic tale of horror which allegorically explores the inevitability of death. Despite Poe's text, which is rich with detail and uses color to supplement the story's metaphor, the lithographs are composed of subtle hues of taupe, grey, black and white. Using this palette, Castellon expresses the mood of the story more than illustrating the plot. Implementing techniques of abstract art in these earthy tones, such as in It Was a Gay and Magnificent Revel, Castellon adds a sense of whimsy to the morose and sinister atmosphere, an element also found in The Masque of Red Death. Ghastly, gaunt, and linen-wrapped, he creates a figure of death that is androgynous and horrifying, and maintaining that morbidity, Castellon explores Poe's moral in And The Red Death Held Illimitable Dominion Over All. While keeping the spirit of Poe's story, the imagery is very much the product of Castellon's fertile imagination.

Francisco Goya, another artist originating from Spain, is oftentimes considered the father of modern art. After receiving a good education, Goya studied drawing and painting by copying the prints of Italian masterpieces. While the practice was tedious and unimaginative, the experience provided him with a skill for drafting. …

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