In black charcoal he has captured a face staring with dark, straight-ahead intensity in front of a brick wall. The face is his own, the wall his invention.

“I was in a self-portrait class for about three weeks and was really unproductive,” Joe Castillo recalls. “One night I got really angry and just drew one at home. I sat myself in my room using mirrors on my desk and just did it. It took about two and a half hours. I had to get something done. That’s what I was feeling.”

Castillo studied art at Lane Technical High School, from which he graduated this year, and at the Marwen Foundation, a nonprofit art program for inner-city kids. “I’m a student artist,” Castillo says. “That means I’m still learning. I know that artists are always learning, but I’m still in a pretty early stage.”

Another drawing, which Castillo originally intended as, but no longer considers, a self-portrait, shows a boy within the torso of a woman. “I call it “Mama’s Boy,”‘ he says, “because of how the head is inside the woman, kind of sheltered there, protected.” Most prominent are the boy’s big round eyes almost vibrating with bright green color. “They’re just bugging out,” he explains. “I heard a song on the radio, ‘The Fly,’ a U2 song. My first idea was to draw a snakelike figure with eyes. I really wanted to do the eyes, the texture of the eyes. A fly would have those kinds of eyes. But when I started to go in that direction, it didn’t really fit, so I just left the drawing in a drawer for a couple of weeks until I got more ideas.”

He took the drawing out of the drawer after seeing a play about artist Georgia O’Keeffe. “There was a scene where a couple is looking at one of her paintings and there were sexual innuendos in the painting, and I sort of wanted to do something like that, too. The painting was a clam that was half-open with a hole in the middle that suggested a woman’s vagina. I wanted to see how people would react. And on the way there I just thought of the Mama’s Boy thing.”

With hopes of studying art in college, Castillo now struggles to solve a conflict. “I feel like I have to decide whether I’m going to be a commercial artist or a fine artist. I’ve stayed up nights. If you’re going to be a fine artist, I think you have to be really dedicated. You have to stick with it, because you won’t make much money. But then you’re not doing it for money, you’re doing it for art, for satisfaction.”

“An artist,” he has written in an attempt at self-definition, “is someone who can express a thought or a strong emotion through images. If an artist can make someone think or if they create a work that affects someone else’s life in some small way, then they’ve done their job because that’s what art is about.”

“It’s just like the Georgia O’Keeffe painting,” he says. “It really caused people to think and just wonder what Georgia O’Keeffe is thinking about when she does stuff like that. That’s the kind of artist that interests me. I mean stuff that just deals with emotions. If something deals with the emotions, I have a chance at getting through to more people. It might hit a spot in them that will take them back to an experience or something in their past. That’s what I think I want to do.”

Joe Castillo’s work appears in the show “You in Art: Self-Portraits and Portraits by Marwen Foundation Students” through July 2 in the Randolph Gallery & Cafe of the Chicago Cultural Center, 77 E. Washington St. Call 346-3278 for information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Loren Santow.