Q&A: Vincent Castiglia Paints Exclusively in His Own Blood (but Used Semen Once)

Lots of artists stand out for designing some kick-ass metal covers -- like the recently deceased Storm Thorgerson, for example, who lent his art to everyone from Led Zeppelin to Black Sabbath over the course of 30 years. But when it comes to weaving together the heavy metal standard of horror, the dark side of humanity, and substantial sacrifices to the heavy metal gods, the first person that comes to mind has to be Vincent Castiglia.

In short, his work is bloody wonderful.

He designed (with H.R. Giger) Triptykon's 2010 debut release, Eparistera Daimones, and is known for a collection of art that has appealed to everyone from Marilyn Manson to Metallica. He's also known for this fact: His entire body of work is created exclusively in his own blood.

Castiglia creates detailed pieces in his studio, transferring actual flesh and blood to each work, practicing a modern-day blood-letting and siphoning his life force for a realism that dissolves the barrier between artist and art in the most literal sense.

As Celtic Frost vocalist Martin Eric Ain has stated, just a little dramatically, "If the body is the temple, then the heart is the altar and the blood is the sacred flame that enlightens the shrine. Vincent is painting with holy light."

His work also hangs in a wide range of spaces and galleries, from Greg Allman's walls (he purchased one of Castiglia's most celebrated works, Gravity) to Switzerland's the Museum of Porn in Art and New York's Fuse Gallery.

Up on the Sun talked with Castiglia about nearly dying for his art, the band he would love to design an album cover for, and the time he experimented with semen as a medium.

You've said that you originally began painting with your blood to become more intimate with you work. But when was the exact moment you realized that's what you could -- and would -- do?

It was the point when I started using blood exclusively. I had been using it in conjunction with pen and ink, and that felt right. I connected with the work on a deeper level. But then I did some initial very loose paintings, and at that moment it became evident.

How is blood different from paint to work with?

There isn't a big difference. Well, there is and there isn't. I would compare it to watercolor, like opaque watercolor. But I work from five consistencies, to mostly water with a few drops of blood, all the way to just straight blood that's been given a chance to decompose a bit and become more opaque.

And that's how that happens, through natural decomposition. And that stuff -- over the course of working on a project and it being a room temperature while not refrigerated while I'm working -- that's almost like acrylic paint. It straddles the line between watercolor and acrylic.

Have you ever experimented with other human bodily fluids or anyone else's blood?

I've worked with others' blood. I'd taken donations when my lung collapsed in 2008. I was doing my first solo show, which was to open at the H.R. Giger Museum and Gallery in Switzerland. I was working long hours and was not keeping track of how much blood I had collected. I was stressed out and pretty weak.

What about other bodily fluids?

[Laughter] Bodily fluids . . . I have.

You know, a long time ago I had worked with a few things, uh, again, really experimental and just total catharsis to see where it was going. Um, I'm not sure I want to say this! [Laughter] I'm speaking to you and I'm not sure. . .

Okay. Well, this is a long time ago; probably in 1999. Um, I worked with semen at one point. It was a black piece of illustration board . . . I feel strange telling you this. Anyway, I had sex with my girlfriend at the time on top of it. What was produced on the surface afterwards, I fixed it on with glue and glitter. It was just this cool encapsulation of the moment. I've never shown it and never really talked about it.

Are you doing anything now, since the collapsed lung, to stay healthy?

There's nothing special I do in terms of diet, but I am more conscious of how much I'm collecting at a time. It's probably 10 to 15 tubes. I can get 30 and still feel okay, but I don't push it anymore because it isn't necessary. Fifteen will last me quite a while working on a project.

And a lot of it is diluted anyways, working with blood and water, so it stretches it. And I'm not working as large anymore. I did a lot of large works in the past -- seven-foot-tall paintings that took me a couple months. And the amount of blood needed was much higher.

It would make sense for you to be pretty stressed out showing at the H.R. Giger Museum. You've said in previous interviews that you slept there the night before, and that you had some premonitory dreams. Can you tell me about those?

I do remember those. I had written it down. Off-hand, I don't remember the environment of the dream, but I remember it had something to do with Dracula, as ridiculous as it sounds. And the next day is when Triptykon asked me if I'd be interested in doing the album artwork for the band.

And I said absolutely, I'd be honored. And they said what they had planned for my artwork was the interior of the album for the CD and LP, and Giger's work was going to be on the cover, which was a painting called Vlad Tepes. So I had this dream the night before, I had written it down on a sketch pad, and then the next day they told me what they had planned, and the Giger piece was on the cover.

If there were any band's album cover you could design, whose would it be?

Probably Tool.

Are you a big Tool fan?

I am.

I could definitely see your artwork on one of their album covers. So who are your favorite artists, or biggest influences?

I would definitely have to cite H.R. Giger as a huge inspiration. Salvador Dali. And I didn't realize until recently how inspired I've been inspired by Alphonse Mucha. I'm aware of his work, I had a book of his, and I just recently bought a hardcover book of his work. And I can't believe the similarities in terms of the ways things flow and the use of negative space. So I was definitely influenced by him. Other than that, I really like Francis Bacon's work.

Over the years with your different blocks of work, do you feel your themes have changed at all?

Yes. Because every painting is really about where I'm at, at a particularly point in time, the work has many places and themes.

When I began, there were some really painful circumstances and it was a way to transcend that stuff, objectify it, and understand it a little bit better with each painting.

But it's shifted now, because the inspiration isn't so dark, I would have to say. It's not coming from the same place [long pause]. Aesthetically? I'd say there's a decent amount of similarity, but as far as the content I think It's a little less nihilistic, a little more hopeful.

What is your latest project?

The last painting I did was a commission for a collector in Florida. The Archangel Gabriel. I didn't have many details to communicate about it; he wanted my own rendition of it, but he wanted it to be this dark archangel Gabriel.

He was quoting Christopher Walken from The Prophecy, you know where he said he had turned cities into salt and newborns from their mother's wombs, and whatever? You know, I kind of could have gone crazy in terms of gore. But I meditated on it and what that means to me and how that relates to my life right now and this world, and I titled it The Last Message, and it depicts Gabriel in an ocean of blood about knee deep, and he's holding a tapestry that reads in old Latin "Wake Up Or Die", as the last message to humanity communicated by, whatever -- if you want to call it God.

Any future projects in the works?

Yes, there are a few things; some concepts I'm working out on paper. One in particular is an homage to Jack Kevorkian? I saw a documentary of his work recently and it was pretty moving. I admire what he did and what he stood for and I wish there was a guy around like that these days. Euthansia . . . I think at a certain point everyone realizes that people in pain should have the right to choose not to suffer anymore.

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Lauren Wise has worked as a rock/heavy metal journalist for 15 years. She contributes to Noisey and LA Weekly, edits books, and drinks whiskey.
Contact: Lauren Wise