Metal makes up an important part of the American psyche, from the Man of Steel to the Iron Curtain to the Rust Belt. It’s safe to say metal monopolizes the mind of Paula Castillo.
I first saw Castillo’s work last year as a series of bright purple ink-jet prints, ebullient on the walls of mobile box-truck gallery Axle Contemporary. Though I admired the pieces’ curlicue specificity and was aware they related to her metal work, the more complex connection between those pursuits escaped me.
Tethered at William Siegal Gallery places Castillo’s metal pieces alongside her works on paper. The drawings thankfully go beyond pictures of metal.
Castillo doesn’t exactly capture metal’s likeness—though she makes a good deal of headway in that direction with irregular line width that mimics the globular wavering of welded steel—so much as its essence. For Castillo, that essence appears to diverge from the harsh dichotomies that metal has forged in the American mind-set.
Castillo’s markings on paper seem more as though she were trying to “write” metal than represent it, creating for it her own alphabet drenched with the nonintuitive emotions she associates with the stuff. Her drawings show her own conceptions of metal, causing it to appear queer, meek and whimsical. They also go a long way toward swaying one’s interpretation of the varied steel works.
In light of the drawings, two stacked steel rhomboids the color of oxidized nickel and called “in this narrow space” turn from foreboding modernist architecture into a couple of crazy, crooked cubes. The sharp but circular intersections in “i can only count things” lose their grit and round out to create a cartoon grater shaped like a wedge of cheese.
The only thing grating about the piece, however, is its title.
In an interview with Pasatiempo’s Michael Abatemarco, Castillo says she thinks of each title as a “mini piece that sits next to” its corresponding work. Perhaps her titles are too separate. Despite what they add to the exhibition’s hidden whimsy, the titles—all written in an EE Cummings lowercase—blanket the pieces in a wishy-washy neo-poeticism not necessarily fitting the works’ quiet quirkiness.
The titles are not necessarily bad, just a bit eye-rolling. For example: the koan-like “one small bird (two),” two bundles of wire that arch like wingspans but look like nests; “narrow repertoire from here to there,” a successful translation of old metal into chalk pastel; or the variegated welded metal mop head “like all the portions of those small waves.”
Don’t get me wrong. I congratulate Castillo for using titles at all (one expects more creativity from artists than a show of untitled pieces called So-and-So: New Work, which has been happening with alarming frequency of late). But the pieces themselves make ample headway into explaining Castillo’s strange metal worldview; they don’t need over-the-top titles.
The metal works act as the main event; the works on paper are a more refined after-party. The works on paper subtly suggest the mounds of metal aren’t so hard. The titles unnecessarily hammer it home.