A third-generation clay artist, Verónica Castillo was born in Izucar de Matamoros in the Mexican state of Puebla. Castillo's family is known for their creation of Arbol de la Vida (Tree of Life) and candelabra sculptures, an art form which originated in Mexico's Puebla area. Delicate, intricate, and brightly painted, these clay sculptures traditionally depict religious scenes, but Castillo's works also focus and comment on social and contemporary issues such as the violence on the border. In a 2012 interview with the San-Antonio Express-News she noted, "I love my family's pieces. They fascinate me. We see traditions, customs directly in their work. And for me, I want to create another language in clay that shows the difficulties people have in everyday life that create an unjust world."
Castillo was initially introduced to this traditional art form by her grandmother, though a number of her family members were artists, including her father, Don Alfonso Castillo Orta, who was recognized with Mexico's prestigious national prize El Premio Nacional de Ciencias y Artes (The National Prize of Sciences & Arts). Castillo initially worked as an accountant while also working in her family's clay workshop developing her artistic skills. She came to the United States at age 24 and has continued to follow in her family's artistic footsteps, creating elaborate and finely crafted Arbol de la Vida artworks that, depending on the intricacies of the piece, can take up to six months to create. For the past 15 years, Castillo has taught at MujerArtes, a women's ceramic and clay arts collective. Until December 2012, Castillo was an artist-in-residence at Esperanza Peace and Justice Center in San Antonio, Texas.
Castillo's artworks were most recently featured alongside those of her family members in a 2012 exhibition Renacimiento desde las entrañas de mi ser (Rebirth from the depths of my being) at the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. In the program book for the exhibition, Castillo was quoted as saying, " Since my parents conceived me, I have had an intimate and intense relationship with clay, as well as a fluid connection and contact with the earth and water that give shape to my art, a gift endowed at birth that has given my family its artistic legacy in folk art."
Creacion. Photo by by Carlos Varilla
Homenaje a Frida. Photo by by Carlos Varilla
Photo by Michael G. Stewart
In Translation: Verónica Castillo expands a traditional Mexican art form, the Tree of Life, to express the need for social justice in the 21st century.