Nicolás Castell is a Spanish storyteller, designer, and illustrator whose work is richly narratival, graphic, and colorful, and holds your attention like a wonderful novel. The artist describes stories through line, adding vivid color for effect and atmosphere. Two Colors and The Ukiyo-e Project are some of the most enchanting among Castell’s many beautiful and touching stories. The art evolved as a desire to find something apart from commercial work, and express the moment of finding one’s own style, both formally and imaginatively. The Japanese art form Ukiyo-e “floating world painting” was an important inspiration.
Castell’s Two Colors emerged out of a desire to work on something free of “rules or specificities.” Pictures grew from the imagination, an unraveling of pictures as a study of the artist’s subconscious. Afterwards, Castell spent time looking at each detail, analyzing the composition
The Ukiyo-E series began with a single illustration telling the story of an artist who draws pictures that come to life. The project has grown into a book that the artist plans hopes publish within the next year. The story is clearly an autobiographical story punctuated by fantasy –an ambitious foreign artist living in Japan finds a magic pen that allows him to create anything he wishes, but there are unexpected consequences.
The war series is an unexpected topic for a young artist. He notes that these kinds of stories allow him to explore the dual nature of humanity. Inspired by the way, in which war is portrayed in work of Ernest Hemingway, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Gabriel Chevallier and Hugo Pratt about war, Castell focuses on the way these extremes manifest the “most animal cruelty next to heroic sacrifice to save a friend. What it drives me to examine this subject is simply the wide range of human emotions that can be shown in the characters and compositions.
RB: Please tell me more about your working methods, and your connection to Japanese aesthetics?
NC: I begin with research before drawing the scene, followed by pencil sketches, and finish the composition on good quality paper, after this, I ink the drawing and scan it, and add colors in Photoshop.
In terms of Japan, at thirteen, I read Akira of Katsuhiro Otomo, and watched the anime movies of Hayao Miyazaki. I wanted to know more of this culture and in turn, I discovered the principles of bushido. At seventeen, I discovered the films of Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujirô Ozu, and Takeshi Kitano, among others. I was inspired by the contemplative approach to the depiction of death, communication, power, aging, and nature.
RB: Comic book art has become as a significant artistic and literary genre, how do you perceive this genre? How does your work fit into this style and way of working?
NC: Interesting question, indeed, comics and graphic novels are growing, and becoming a truly recognized art form. I have always loved comics. There is considerable potential in this way of telling stories. One can project such emotion with the right union of images, text, and sequence. For example, Chris Ware has achieved a personal language so rich that at times it seems as deep as a Dostoevsky novel. The psychological drama is impressively intense.
RB: Narratival structure is both loose and at the heart of your work, can you tell me more about this?
NC: It depends of the picture, but I usually want to tell a story. I am always writing with drawn element: animals, characters, and scenes. I feel like the whole point of illustration, as an art form is to tell stories through pictures. My illustrations have a narrative purpose and use historic elements mixed with fantasy. Right now, I am finishing a 122 page graphic novel that I hope to publish soon.