Franky Castle Brings Unique Mexican Art From the Streets to the Galleries

Franky Castle was successful enough. He spent most of his adult life owning beeper shops and Boost mobile stores. But two years ago, the 41-year-old Anaheim resident decided to sell his businesses and start anew as an artist.

“I did a self-audit, ‘What am I good at and what am I not good at?'” Castle says, “I came to the realization that I’m not a good business owner…the next question was, ‘What am I good at?’ And everything just led to art.”

Castle was born in Guadalajara but has lived in Anaheim since he was three. His real name is Francisco Castillo but has gone by Franky since childhood. Castle is an English translation of his last name which he chose as his art name simply because it “has a ring to it.”

You’ve likely seen Castle’s vibrantly colorful Mexican-influenced paintings throughout SanTana’s art walk, Noche De Altares, Anaheim’s art walk, OC Weekly‘s 2016 Artopia, live painting sessions at El Mercado Modern in Santa Ana and at Anaheim GardenWalk.

While Castle continues to establish himself across Orange County, his roots began in the streets of Anaheim’s roughest hoods. “There was a neighborhood called Anaheim Jungle City back in the ’80s and it was very rough,” Castle says. “I think one of the roughest that Anaheim has had and I was smack in the middle.” While his mother commuted to work at a factory in Placentia, his father (originally from Cihuatlán, Jalisco) was either in and out of prison, drunk, high on heroin or forcing a young Castle to box other children in neighborhood bars. He recalls witnessing overdoses, gang violence and poverty during his upbringing in Anacrime. “They called it the Jungle for a reason,” he says.

As a way to escape his dark surroundings, Castle played basketball at Anaheim High School, joined a punk band called Shitdog and stumbled across the emerging Orange County graffiti scene of the early ’90s. “My freshman year, the graffiti comes in and it came hard,” he says. But once the graffiti crews Castle associated with turned into gangs, Castle called it quits. “I’m in it for the art—spray not shoot,” he remembers telling his tagger friends. After that brief stint as an artist in high school, Castle didn’t paint a thing for 26 years. Instead, he worked odd jobs, owned his businesses, then enrolled for a year at the Art Institute of Orange County when he decided to reinvent himself. There, he learned about color theory marketing and advertising. Now, the artist is usually in his Anaheim studio painting up to 10 hours each day. “I started going back into my roots which was the graffiti and the vibrant colors,” he says.

Castle’s work is refined, cultural and street, all at the same time, with vibrantly colorful Chicano, Mexican, Meso-American and even Orange County themes. Such tributes to O.C. in Castle’s work include paintings with the Anaheim Angels logo, orange groves and mixed media pieces with cut-outs of OC Weekly clippings (some of which have featured a photo of O.C.’s last naranjero and the logo for ¡Ask a Mexican!) These motifs feel like an eclectic mash-up of iconography and culture that only a Mexican growing up in Anaheim would understand.

Although his art has Chicano art tendencies, Castle says he doesn’t identify as a Chicano artist, “I’m not even Chicano, I’m Mexican.” he says, “I’m a paisa artist” he says with a laugh. “And I’m a very proud paisa.”

He’s also a very giving person, especially to Orange County’s most disenfranchised communities. In the past, he’s collaborated with Santa Ana Unidos (a non-profit boxing club) and given free basketball clinics and free haircuts (Castle is also a talented barber thanks to his father) to youth in low-income neighborhoods across Orange County. He hopes to host an art workshop for local children in the near future too. And like a good primo and buddy, he’s never too busy to help introduce his cousin, Karina Castillo, into the world of art as well as co-organize annual holiday charity events with his friend Wendy Ulloa, a local Anaheim fashion designer.

As Castle reflects on his new found art career he points to one of his first paintings. It shows a burning ship that he says depicts Hernán Cortés destroying his fleet after discovering his soldiers wanted to abandon their mission of conquering the Americas, “I didn’t burn my ship until I sold my business [last] April,” Castle says, “Either we conquer or we perish. That’s what I’ve really done here, sometimes you have to risk everything for a dream no one can see but you.”

Follow Frank Castle on Instagram: @FrankyCastle1 or visit his website

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