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Art Blocks
A bird as a metaphor for Houston
Photo: Morris Malakoff
With a title such as City Bird of Houston, visual artist Armando Castelan makes a big and strong statement about his Main Street Marquee mural at Main Street Square. His work, an installation that's part of the Art Blocks temporary art project, is fun and whimsical, adding a character that most would imagine as being small and unnoticeable in a form that's literally bigger than life.
Moreover, the building itself becomes a physical part of the work, with an effect that fools the eye into a depth and perspective that don't exist.
Learn more about Armando Castelan in this Q&A, in which he talks about his upbringing, inspiration and desire to get the public involved in making their own stories about his works.  
Q: Where are you from?
Armando Castelan: I am from Puebla, Mexico, a small town, and was raised in Los Angeles. At age 12, I moved to Houston and have been here ever since.
Q: Why Houston?
Armando Castelan: I came to houston with my dad. My parents were separated at the time. I was young so I followed my father.
Q: Was that a hard transition?
Armando Castelan: It wasn't that difficult. I just had to get used to a new place and a new life. Art helped me settle in and feel like I belonged. Art carried me through school, even attending the High School for Performing and Visual Arts.
Q: How did you come to discover your love for visual arts? Did someone in your family inspire you?
Armando Castelan: My dad had something to do with it. In Mexico, he would buy me comic books and I would try to copy the characters. And it seems that I've been doing that ever since. Once I started copying characters, it dawned on me that I could also create my own.
Q: With characters being an important part to your work, do you also concentrate on offering a narrative?
Armando Castelan: Yes! I always try to tell a story, but it's usually within the character — what he's wearing, what he might be doing. I don't really focus on the background too much. I've been drawing some characters for several years, so the narrative continues across many of my works, usually evolving into other scenes and themes. The story just naturally gets extended over the years.
Q: What attracted you to the art blocks project?
Armando Castelan: I wanted the opportunity for my works to interact with more viewers. I started painting murals about a year ago, and I had been thinking about bigger scale works that had an interactive element. When Art Blocks came along, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to work on public engagement.
I'm really hoping people notice the whimsical in the work. To identify with the bird. To take photos abd share them. To make up their own story of the bird, its home and whatever it might be down in the middle of Downtown Houston.
Q: Has this bird appeared in your previous works or is it a new character?
Armando Castelan: It's a brand new character actually, but I have painted other kinds of birds. Sometimes my birds wear clothes and hats. I try to make them colorful, filled with personality. In this case, I turned the building into the birdhouse.
Q: Does the character of the bird have significance to you?
Armando Castelan: In some ways. I paint a lot of animals. I don't like to see animals in cages. There's something very wrong about that. By putting a bird and its home in middle of Downtown, because it's so busy, I'm making a comparison to the city itself. Houston is very free, very big and open — and so is my bird.
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