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Keep in the Shadow or You'll be Trampled on by the Horse!

Not on view

Keep in the Shadow or You'll be Trampled on by the Horse!

Artist: Federico Castellon (American, 1914 - 1971)

Date: 1938
Medium: Graphite on heavy wove paper
Dimensions:
Overall: 15 x 11in. (38.1 x 27.9cm)
Signed: Signed and dated lower right (graphite): FEDERICO CASTELLÓN NY '38
Inscribed: Inscribed verso center (graphite): "Keep in the Shadow or You'll Be / Trampled on by the horse!"
Credit Line: Edward W. Root Bequest
Object number: 57.117
Text Entries

A precocious talent, young Federico Castellon had sufficiently absorbed influences of the European avant-garde by his high school graduation to attract the support of notable art dealers and artists, including Diego Rivera.(1) During the 1930s, Castellon continued to assimilate various strands of modernist sources.(2) By 1937, he had begun to imitate the precious, precise dreamlike images of Dali’s paintings of the period. The MWPI drawing, dated 1938, exhibits salient characteristics of this style.(3)

In his emulation of a surrealist pursuit to expose erotic desires and taboos existing outside rational thought, Castellon juxtaposes in the MWPI drawing seemingly unrelated forms that defy logical interpretation. In the lower right, open French doors admit bright light from the outside, which may be deemed the realm of “reality.” Before the door sits a draped chair, beyond which lies a dream space where enigmatic characters emerge from the murky obscurity of the deeply worked graphite. To the right of the chair, a kneeling woman faces the wall. It is she, presumably, who must remain in the shadows. One can imagine that the woman either once occupied the chair, bathing freely in the light, or is tantalizingly, close but unable to realize this pleasure. Looming over her are a large hand that opens to reveal a woman’s face(4) and a fanciful, if awkwardly drawn, horse. These may be understood as embodiments of overwhelming fears that humiliate the intimidated, crouching woman. Inasmuch as male surrealists usually defined women as sexual objects and sexual monsters, in Castellon’s hands the cowering, nude woman is at once source and victim of the destructive forces of erotic power. Whatever Castellon’s attempts at subconscious symbolism may have been, however, another reading of this drawing may be made based on a feminist critique of the Western male artist/viewer’s acquisitive gaze at the nude female. The precision, veering toward incision, of Castellon’s drawing technique becomes the physical manifestation of what Mary Ann Caws has described as the dominating “gaze gone hard, this stare” of penetrating possession.(5) If the face revealed in the large hand is that of the kneeling woman, her beauty and intellect have been captured and are held by a greater being.(6) Her corporeal, sexual self, by contrast, is shamed into the shadows. Such a displaced disembodiment violates the woman as a complete, whole personage.(7)

MEM

1. For further biographical information on Castellon, see Jeffrey Wechsler, Surrealism and American Art, 1931-1947 (New Brunswick, N.].: Rutgers, The State University, 1976), 32-33, and Federico Castellon papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., microfilm D297.

2. Before traveling in Europe in the mid-1930s, Castellon created paintings with abstract humanoid forms that conflate influences: though lacking the menace, Susana and the Elders, 1933, is reminiscent of Picasso’s surrealist images such as Bather by the Sea, 1930 (MoMA); Cubism and collage are also in evidence in Portrait, 1934; and, in The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1933, the disposition of space and shadows recall not only Dali, but also de Chirico. See Federico Castellon, Surrealist Paintings 1933- 1934 Rediscovered (New York: Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, 1992), 12, 6, and 4.

3. While Castellon may have been familiar with Dali’s drawings from the mid-1930s—generally in pen and ink line with cross-hatching and stipple effects to create volume—the MWPI drawing suggests that Castellon was also looking at black-and-white reproductions of Dali’s paintings.

In addition to Castell6n’s primary contact with surrealist works in Europe, Clark-Langager, Order and Enigma, 86, note 77, listed potential sources of inspiration for the young artist. She did not mention specifically, however, the Museum of Modern Art’s 1936 exhibition “Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism."

Carl Zigrosser, “Federico Castellon," American Artist 13 (May 1949): 31, admitted that surrealism might alleviate some internal torment, but he seemed relieved to write that “when [Castellon] eventually attained emotional maturity, the compulsion to find outlet in this form ceased to exist."

4. See also Castellon’s Her Eyes Trembled, 1939, a pen-and-ink drawing reproduced in Wechsler, Surrealism and American Art, 1931-1947, 71, no. 15.

5. Mary Ann Caws, “Ladies Shot and Painted: Female Embodiment in Surrealist Art," in Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, eds., The Expanding Discourse." Feminism and Art History (New York: Icon Editions, 1992) [reprinted from Susan R. Suleiman, ed., The Female Body in Western Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986), Z62-87], 385. Caws further stated, 386: “Unless the female . . . submits actively to such a stare, giving what is in any case taken by the male, she will have no role except enforced submission."

6. See Whitney Chadwick, Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement (Boston: Little, Brown, 1985), 50, who has written that women in the surrealist circle were admired for their imaginations, but not their artistic ability. See also Rudolf E. Kuenzli, “Surrealism and Misogyny,” in Mary Ann Caws et al., Surrealism and Women (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1991), 17-26.

7. See also Caws, “Ladies Shot and Painted," 387-88.

 

Copyright
© Estate of Hilda Castellon (widow and heir of Federico Castellon).