Mad Soldiers

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© Courtesy of the artist & Southern Alberta Art Gallery
Mad Soldiers

601 Third Avenue South
T1J 0H4 Lethbridge
January 15th, 2011 - March 6th, 2011

403 327 8770
Tue-Wed, Fri-Sat 10-5; Thu 10-7; Sun 1-5


My work is deeply rooted in the passing of memory through stories. The civil war in El Salvador has had a huge impact on my imagination, so a lot of my work deals with that time period, historically linked with feelings of loss and cultural memories of violence.
– Osvaldo Ramirez Castillo

Standing in front of a work by Osvaldo Ramirez Castillo is a humbling experience. His drawings depict a panoply of exquisitely rendered historical and mythological figures, grotesque beasts or some surreal combination of the two.  Far from static images, they are powerfully allegoric, telling stories, sharing memories and bearing witness to the profound loss and prolonged violence that marked El Salvador during civil war in the 1980s. Though the specifics of the stories may be outside the experience of many who view the work, Castillo has developed a deeply personal language with which to re-vision these narratives that is nonetheless compelling and emotive if at times uncomfortable and menacing.

Storytelling persists as a fundamental part of the cultural legacy of El Salvador, passing on memories both personal and collective, historical and cultural. Oral, textual or visual, it remains a primary form of communication made all the more pressing in times of trauma.  During the civil war, storytelling was a strategy for survival and an explicit form of resistance such as that heard through Radio Venceremos, an underground radio network that was for many the voice of revolution.  For Castillo, his work similarly refuses to be obscured or silenced and broadcasts stories from collective and personal experiences of the war through a confluence of Pre-Columbian mythology and North American iconography derived from popular culture.  Mickey Mouse and the Grateful Dead coexist with multiheaded dog-like creatures, fierce lizards and an army of deranged soldiers, fleshy and inhuman, teeth fixed in a sinister grin and mad with power.   Castillo’s drawings, and his new stop motion animations, are psychologically charged, carnivalesque tapestries reminiscent of the disturbing worlds of Hieronymus Bosch, Francisco Goya, Hunter S. Thompson  and Jake and Dinos Chapman. With historical, cultural, moral, and political issues as layered as the scenes he portrays, Castillo is offering more than a glimpse into a troubled past, he is passing along his stories to keep them in the present.

Osvaldo Ramirez Castillo attended the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD, 1997-2001) and obtained his MFA degree from Concordia University (Montreal, 2004-2007). He has participated in various group exhibitions across Canada and internationally in venues such as The Print Center in New York, The 2007 Beyond In Western New York Biennial in Buffalo, La Casa de Las Americas National Gallery in Cuba and Push Gallery in Montreal among others. The artist is the recipient of numerous production and travel grants from the Canada Art Council, Le Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, including subsidies from The Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation and most recently from The Pollock- Krasner Foundation in The United States.  He is represented by Push Gallery in Montreal, Headbones Gallery in Toronto, and Kuma Galerie in Berlin. He lives in works in Montreal, Canada.

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