Artist of Week: Lorena Castillo

Lorena Castillo flips through her collection of photographs. (HANNAH HATCH / Martinez Tribune)
Lorena Castillo flips through her collection of photographs. (HANNAH HATCH / Martinez Tribune)

Martinez Tribune

I visited Lorena Castillo, visual artist as well as community and environmental activist, at her beautiful, colorful home near downtown Martinez. Castillo has a “really cool landlord” who let her paint her home’s walls in all colors of the rainbow. We sat down in her art studio for this interview, Castillo accompanied by her adorable kitty, Lolita Frijolita.

“I feel blessed to have a space that allows me to be creative. I work hard for it. It’s kind of like what I always wanted, just a room to do my work,” Castillo said. “I have my art space here and my music space in the other room. I’ve set it up in a way where it exudes creativity.”

Castillo showed me her abundance of cameras, and photos taken throughout the years.

“My trademark moves are hand coloring over my photography. I shoot black and white film, using an old Minolta and grainy 35mm film. I get my film processed and scanned. I print it out digitally, then I color it myself. They’re a little bit dreamier, because I’m able to add my own colors. I capture the beauty in things that are not technically beautiful, because then I can come back and add my own color or add my own touches to it.

“My style of shooting photography is photo-journalistic (person, place or thing) but conceptually, it’s not. I love capturing other people observing or being curious … people kind of doing their own thing.

“I like when people look at my art and they are not sure if it is a painting or a photograph. That’s been my concept, to make people think a little bit more about what they are looking at. A photograph is very literal, so adding my own colors and textures to it gets people thinking a little bit more.

“Everyone’s going to have their own opinion of my art, it’s going to be different for everyone. When somebody asks me what the purpose of it is, it’s whatever you want the purpose to be. So I’m not making these controversial, anti-capitalism art works that stir up certain political awareness or anything like that. I do have a passion for certain things, like the environment. It kind of made me think, that’s a good project for me perhaps in the future. But it doesn’t necessarily always have to give a message.”

Castillo grew up all over the Bay Area, moving with her family on average every two years.She has lived in Oakland, Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill and Concord, but most of her adolescence was spent in Antioch. Castillo was born in San Francisco and moved to Mexico for seven years of her early childhood. Most of her family is currently in Mexico. Castillo’s parents are from Guadalajara, Mexico. In the ‘90s, her father, a musician who plays classical guitar, moved to America to be in a band called “The Forgotten One,” which toured all over the country.

“This corner in Martinez is the longest I’ve lived anywhere,” Castillo said.
“It wasn’t really stable growing up and my parents divorced when I was 15. We were loved. There was never a lack of love, which I think made the instability okay. We have a big family. I have a lot of cousins, aunts, and uncles. I had a good family life. I had kind of an interesting childhood, which really helped in who I am today. I grew up in a very rich household of music. I remember, my father’s tour bus would come home, and there would be like 20 musicians at my house at once. My home life was very creative. My dad writes in calligraphy. He was always doing some type of art whether it was writing or music.”

Castillo graduated from College Park High School, and then went to Diablo Valley College where she took art classes.

“I had to take a general art class. Luz Ruiz, the latin woman teaching, was so inspiring. I decided to take her printmaking class because I liked her. I took two years of printmaking with her. It’s kind of a lost art. I was doing that and taking more photography classes. I really loved it. Luz was a big fan of my work, and really pushed me. I never thought I had strong drawing skills. Luz, who was the head of the art department at the time, really pushed me. She thought that I was good.”

Castillo finished her undergraduate degree at a private art school, Brooks Institute of Photography, in Santa Barbara. She graduated in 2006 with a professional photography degree.

“Photography is so real. What you see is what you get, where I knew I could never draw exactly what I wanted. Photography could be the starting point and then I could take it to the next level, which was my thought process for getting a photography degree. I wanted to incorporate what I learned in printmaking, and make it my own with my photography skills. Later I was able to show Luz what I did,” she said.

Castillo’s experience in Santa Barbara did not only deepen her passion for the arts, but also stirred a passion in her for the environment. After graduating, Castillo moved with a friend to Martinez. She was drawn to the environmentally friendly community and got a job as a photographer and writer.

“Santa Barbara was a very environmentally conscious city,” Castillo said. “I became a vegetarian. I became really aware of my environment and started an appreciation for parks, conservation and preservation. I found a little bit of that here in Martinez. When I graduated college I was just so grateful that I had a job where I was using the skills that I learned. I had friends who after they graduated, never picked up a camera ever again. I was blessed that my photos were being published and sent out to the masses. That, to me, was a success. I did it for almost two years and I got a lot out of it and loved it. It really taught me how to approach and get to know a lot of people in the community. I really liked Martinez. There was this big open space, it was by the water, and had a great community. Martinez, in a way, is progressive. Some of the thinking is progressive and I really appreciated that. That’s really what kept me here. That same drive, that passion for art, that most people care about the environment.”

Currently Castillo works at New Leaf, a program out of the alternative high school, for the Martinez Unified School District. She organizes a recycling program for the elementary schools and she is also the president of Martinez’s Kiwanis Club.

“I started volunteering at the Environmental Studies Academy, which ended up getting me the job at New Leaf. It’s totally separate from my art. I got that job because of my ability to connect with people. I think it was really a big win for me to get that job. I have this natural passion for working with people. For some reason, I work really well with young people and really well with older people. It’s my peers that I have a harder time relating to. I love working with young people, and then I am the president of the Kiwanis Club. I’m the youngest one there. It’s really accepting. We all do work for youth and raise money for youth scholarships or community organizations. It’s all for things that benefit what I am already doing, so it is just a natural fit.”

Castillo works with Artcelerator to put together monthly ArtBeat gallery events in Martinez. The next Art Beat will be held downtown on Saturday, March 19.

Castillo has also curated at San Francisco restaurant, Puerto Allegre, and has shown her art in different San Francisco locations.

“I get inspired by other people’s work. I love sharing my process with other artists or people that are curious. Or vice versa, I love when artists are open and willing to share their ‘secrets.’ Artcelerator’s James Patton approached me, knowing I was a passionate artist. I was excited to meet other people my age who were starting a movement to bring more awareness to the different kinds of artists that we have. We are working together to generate momentum with the ArtBeats. The last couple of years I’ve been focusing on and showing my art outside of Martinez. I remember showing my first piece of art downtown at the gallery. It sold. Somebody took it and reframed it to make it look better. Automatically, without even asking for help, people wanted to help. I had been doing it here in Martinez for so many years I was kind of exhausting my resources – not to dismantle that. I have so many people here who have supported and bought my art. That’s amazing and I don’t want to discredit that. But at some point I want to share my work with new people. Artcelerator is good because it’s kind of bringing me back, and bringing back this new sense of inspiration. Why not curate shows here where I live and enjoy it more? That’s been really a positive group of people to work with. I’m the only woman on that crew. I love it and it’s really a fun experience working with those guys. I look forward to doing more art events with them.

Along with her art and day job, Castillo is a dedicated musician. She is in two bands, The Succulents and Pelican Skeleton. She plays guitar, sings and writes her own music. Castillo is also a certified yoga instructor, teaching yoga to youth in the community. She’s been busy with many activities and projects, but is planning on debuting another collection of her work shortly.

“I have a lot of work that I am kind of sitting on and film I have to process, not on purpose but it’s an expensive process. I really like traveling to Mexico and taking pictures there. I do that once a year. I have a lot of good stuff from Mexico and at some point, I’d like to make a coffee table book from all of my travels. That’s kind of a goal for this year. I’m trying to figure out the timing of when to debut my next body of work. I will definitely show it in Martinez. I’m thinking about what message my next show is trying to convey – I want to be real cohesive about it. I have this working series called ‘Women on the Verge.’ I was drawing on their bodies. I want that to be a show one day. I was really proud of my last show called ‘The Tripod Diaries.’ I’ve been showing that for the last few years in different places. I’m ready to stop showing it … I think I’ve shared it with enough people.”

Visit Lorena Castillo’s website,, for more information on her art.

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  1. Congrats Hannah – Gr8 article on Lorena!

  2. Hannah Hatch…relative of the mayor.. Lorena, not the only artist in town, but a favorite of the Mayor. Erin, it is called the news.

  3. @ping pong: I’m unaware of who is and who isn’t “a favorite” of the mayor. We feature a broad array of artists. None are chosen based upon their affiliations. – Erin Clark, Publisher

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