By Tanya Arathoon
Holiday boredom doesn’t often lead to the discovery of a hidden talent, public recognition and a respectable second income. Unless you’re Miguel Castro.
Miguel, who is based in the Philippines, was visiting a friend here five years ago when, in a quiet moment, he picked up one of his friend’s scalpels. “He is a biologist so there were scalpels and blades around. I bought paper from the $2 shop and started cutting.” And so began his work in intricate paper cut-out art.
Since then, Miguel Castro has been developing his skills and holding exhibitions both here and in his native Philippines.
Paper art originated over a thousand years ago. The oldest surviving paper cut-out is a symmetrical circle from the 6th century Six Dynasties period in Xinjiang China. Paper cutting continued to be practiced during the Song and Tang Dynasties as a popular form of decorative art. By the eighth or ninth century paper cutting appeared in West Asia and in Turkey in the 16th century. Within a century, paper cutting was being practised in most of middle Europe. The art has evolved all over the world in many different cultural styles.
Cutting an intricate design from paper might appear an unforgiving medium requiring intense attention to detail and little opportunity for error but for Miguel Castro it is more like a form of meditation.
But it took time for his confidence to grow. It started when a friend bought his work and then he put 30 pieces of his work in the TAP Gallery in Darlinghurst.
St Vincent’s Hospital featured his latest exhibition, Kaleidoscope, earlier this year, making it the second time his work has been exhibited there.
Miguel Castro is a talented actor as well as artist. In the Philippines, he has worked in film and television for over 15 years, singing classically in many productions. “My first goal was to study fine arts but I couldn’t afford it.”
However, finding the creative motivation for his creative interests has never been a problem.
The Kaleidoscope exhibition featured over 30 intricately cut works, utilising recycled paper in addition to his preferred black paper juxtaposed against white backgrounds.
“First I did a tree, then a bigger tree, then human forms,” he says.
The exhibition flows in much the same way, taking viewers on a journey through intricately cut forests, bodies and enormous trees. Each leaf dangles precariously, as if held by only a single fibre of paper.
Long black lines of paper, without beginning or end, dance and weave to create two hearts. They are placed together next to ‘Floral Body’, the black paper cut to expose the back of a female torso, each organ bursting into a heavy bloom against a wall of white.
Miguel Castro has the ability to animate the life within his cuttings so that, in the moment you turn away from the work, you feel that the bodies and trees will resume their calm movement.
“Art is like meditation for me, like going to temple,” he says. “With one stroke, the grass looks like it’s moving and you can see the wind.”
‘Constant Peace’ is characteristic of this approach. It’s clear why he names this one as his favourite creation. The work presents a serenity the artist attributes to the perspective he takes when crafting each piece.
The serenity is interrupted by the work he calls ‘More fun in the…’. It’s a catapult into a mad hatter’s mix of dark bodies, warped clocks and wheels. Shapes spontaneously erupt and intertwine.
‘More fun in the…’ was inspired by the Philippines, Miguel says. “People from the Philippines will know what I’m talking about – there is the sun from the Philippines’ flag in the corner,” he says.
The work ‘Coral’ is a surprise. The lone coloured piece stands out like beacon. Pink and green bursts are punctuated by a series of random burnt holes. There is no mistaking the coral form, with or without the title.
“I do try to use more colour each year, and they sell. There is a market for them but I’m still not happy – I’m not so good with colour schemes.
The sheer volume of intricate works might give the impression that Miguel Castro is supremely patient as he plans and executes each design. But this is not always the case, he says, indicating ‘Coral’.
“It was supposed to be white! It’s three layers of white paper that I accidentally burnt with charcoal.”
Accidents aside, Miguel’s artworks provoke an emotional response.
“I’d like to create more images that affect people, work that gives me a certain sense of peace,” he says.