/ Memory to Myth

15 August 2022
Victor Kastelic, Cloudburst, “Family Album N°15”, 2002, Pencil on paper, 40 x 60 cm. © The Artist

By Ric Collier, Director, Salt Lake Art Centre
From Cloudburst, 2004

In hearing [my father’s] stories a thousand times over the years, had I unconsciously memorized them, had I colonized them and pretended they were mine? One theory: we can fool ourselves into believing any sermon if we repeat it enough times. Proof of theory: the number of times in his life the average human whispers Amen.
– “One Good Man” from the Toughest Indian in the World by Sherman Alexie, 2000

Years ago as young teenagers, my close friend and I participated in a mischievous prank. It was a Saturday night in the middle of winter just after a heavy, wet snow had fallen. My friend and I, always anxious to be outside, bolted the confines of his house for the intrigue of the dark night. In a moment of inspiration, we planned an attack on my neighbor’s moving car, since we both disliked him very much. We chose the site from which to launch the attack, a corner vacant lot, and the appropriate artillery, a dozen hard-packed snowballs. Like desperados we lay in wait, on our bellies hidden by the shadow of a large fence for my neighbour to drive by in his 1959 prink “land yacht” Lincoln hardtop. At the exact moment of his approach, my buddy and I leaped to our feet and in rapid succession, pelted his car with a barrage of very hard-packed snowballs. After this successful volley at his swerving car, we retreated from the glare of his red taillights and entered the back door of my house, never to be discovered by the irate man next door.

Recently, in a moment of complete honesty about my youth, I told my dad of this adventure 35 years earlier. After listening intently to my description, he laughingly acknowledged that he knew of our “attack” firsthand from the neighbor the following day. But he said the car was only hit by one loosely packed snowball. “And it wasn’t a Lincoln.”

Victor Kastelic employs his recall of a vast array of eclectic images – images collected over the years from a variety of places and situations – as a basis for the drawings gathered together in this book. As he says, “I have exposed myself to a story of images that have always influenced me in a number of ways but have been generally overlooked in my artwork. This project is about the process of sorting them out.” In that process, his viewers watch memories transforming into myth.

A multitude of subjects, whether childhood memories from a 1960’s middle-class “suburbia” in Utah or a recent front-page photo of the latest Wall Street swindler, seems to post no limits as to origin or timeframe. All of his images are icons of everyday life of both past and present. A post-industrial urban landscape blurs into the wide forested horizon of Wyoming, the American West. Faded photographs share space with modern-day Italian gangsters and politicians. A miserable character extracted from Goya’s Disasters of War meets Tex Willer and John Wayne. Several Playboy Bunnies and a Singer sewing machine are alongside late-night movie heroes with baseball players. One of these images alone is not mysterious, but collected, the “memorabilia” in these drawings is disquieting and revelatory. 

Victor’s images fall into recognizable categories. Many are directly self-referential and autobiographical like in the Mad Dash or Bike Race series. At times, he reproduces actual photographs of his own family, as in the Family Album series. The Kill Factor series employs metaphorical images, an idea he develops further in the universal, archetypal pictorial representations of the Tex series. This is best illustrated in Kill Factor where he is both victim and perpetrator. Occasionally, he fabricates an illusion to fit a specific memory he wants to possess, like the young woman and the car in the Pressed series. Each of these images, whether factual or contrived, is a traced, flat still capturing animated life caught in mid-gesture.

But how has Victor derived these specific memorabilia? When, if ever, do these images, whether ideal, factual or metaphoric, cease being accurate representations of memory or history and become personal myths? How does this happen? Victor has constructed his history according to what he can and what he wants to remember. Then he alone has chosen the images, in every detail, that will represent his memory. Add to this the fact that the brain records memories and fantasies through the same neurological process and then stores both in the same area of the brain. Is there any wonder why we as humans cannot distinguish memory from fantasy? Or in this case, possibly a myth?

In Victor’s artistic process, first comes the event – the birth of a son, a family picnic, the annual holiday gathering of friends, a religious celebration, the death of a family pet, an arousing dancer, loss of the ancestral home, sex, a fight, the violence of a murder. An isolated subject is distilled from a profound moment into an indelible, haunting and deep-seated image. How could he forget this? To Victor there might never be an event so personal, so startling or so magnificent. The “live” event exists no longer but the moment lives in memory. The image and the memory become synonymous.

The first remembering of the memory, sometimes within minutes or a day, is full of details, factual reality seen like an instant replay. It has lost none of the original event except, that it is just later in time. Other memories have intervened, altering the original memory a bit. The facts begin to skew so slightly. There are subtle changes, not obvious. The interpretation now might be different.

But as time elapses, the ability to recall the specific details fades; the edges get rounded, the colours muted and the significant details lost. With each subsequent attempt to recall, Victor traces it slightly differently. A single image retraced, over and over, never appears the same; the outcome becomes more abstract and less clear. Each telling of the story is altered slightly each time.

To combat this deterioration of memory, the artist adopts a contrived history based on who he is or what he remembers so it fits his character, his ego and eventually is accepted as his. Any outward portrayal of any of these images will change as his character changes with time due to expanded knowledge and new experience. Does his selective, “creative” memory eventually affect his inner self, his inner identity?

As he “tells” the story, it gets bigger – the “facts” get so distorted, so biased, so elaborate, that at some point he has created a myth – it hardly seems likely to have happened at all. It is no longer a memory. As memory decreases, myth increases. It is at this point that he, the artist, Victor Kastelic, starts to deal with the myth as his new “reality.”

The new reality is Cloudburst – a point of saturation, inevitability, and maturation. “Cloudburst is an enormous cumulus of images – free of filters, schemes, limits and rules that I normally apply to my paintings,” says the artist. Cloudburst is also a metaphor for the accumulation of thoughts, memories, history, and personal myth that burst out through the skin of the paper in these drawings.

In these drawings we see the gutsy, courageous results of the artist’s process of wrestling with his past, his memories, his myths. He is uncomfortable presenting this work as it begins to unravel the true reality of his world. Living, fully engaged, each day leaves him with a multitude of unresolved questions. Why should a drawing that is derived from this uncertain activity not reflect the experience? Time slips back and forth through a recent past cinema, newspaper advertisement and television soap opera to the frustrated daily routine of the moment – the comforting American Dream interrupted by the violent thunder of everyday life.

To paraphrase Leonardo da Vinci, ‘memory holds more authority than intellect.’ The symbiotic process of memory and art allow Victor to gain some equilibrium, to maintain sanity, to establish identity, to reconcile two distinct cultures, to reflect on his past life and to balance several lives. And now, with this collection, of drawings completed and published, Victor Kastelic invites you and I into a personal visual discourse about the many facets of himself as he sees him. But the truth is elusive. It is a discussion that is full of doubt and nostalgia and chaos.

Copyright and courtesy of the artist

Victor Kastelic, Cloudburst, “Family Album N°12”, 2002, Pencil on paper, 40 x 60 cm. © The Artist
Victor Kastelic, Cloudburst, “Wyoming Why N°13”, 2002, Pencil on paper, 40 x 60 cm. © The Artist
Victor Kastelic, Cloudburst, “Wyoming Why N°8”, 2001, Pencil on paper, 40 x 60 cm. © The Artist
Victor Kastelic, Cloudburst, “Black Dog Headlines N°1”, 2002, Pencil on paper, 40 x 60 cm. © The Artist