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Presenting the artist and her alter-ego

May 01, 2008|David Ng

MANY artists would envy the kind of exposure Carolyn Castano is receiving this month.

The L.A.-based painter and drawer has four large-scale creations featured in "Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement" at LACMA. And beginning Saturday, she will unveil a series of video work in a solo show at SB London in Silver Lake.

Castano describes her body of work as containing elements of feminist, pop and Latino art. "I've grown up with all of these influences. But I'm not carrying a flag for any one movement," she says.

In "VIDEOworks" at SB London, the artist will show four new video creations that feature the artist's alter-ego, "Betty Ramirez," who is alternately played by Castano and actress Victoria Ramirez. Each video is about five minutes and explores specific cinematic archetypes like the femme fatale, the romantic heroine and the big-hipped mother figure.

"La Extranjera" follows a mysterious woman who wears a Mexican wrestler's mask around her apartment. One evening, she creates her own fake passport, packs her suitcase and dons a white trench coat. She struts around downtown L.A. as if in her own fashion show and ultimately decides to take the Gold Line Metro train.

"The title of the video means 'foreigner,' " Castano says. "I was thinking that as a foreigner, you wear a mask and no one knows who you really are beyond the exterior that you create for yourself."

"Fragrant Afternoon" portrays an appealing young woman sitting on a bench who becomes attracted to the man next to her. As she slowly inches toward him, the video cuts away to a fantasy scene of the two characters wandering through a forest glen, encountering exotic flora and fauna. Castano explains that she wanted the video to evoke the sensory experiences of romance. "Love really happens in your ears and your nose," she says.

Visitors to the gallery will be able to purchase all four videos in a DVD. (There's also a bonus movie on the DVD that the artist describes as "erotic" in nature.) Higher-quality versions of each video will also be available for special collectors.

Castano, born in L.A. to Colombian parents, has spent most of her life in Historic Filipinotown. She teaches at UCLA and at other universities around the city.

The LACMA show features four of Castano's large mixed-media portraits. In each work, she deliberately uses tacky material such as glitter, rhinestones and shiny baubles.

"I'm interested in the way people decorate and embellish themselves," the artist says. "I was inspired by the graphics you see in beauty salons. It's as if my subjects are in a beauty salon of their own creation."

Castano says she didn't get to choose which works would go into the LACMA exhibition.

"They told me which ones they wanted," she says. "I have to say I've never seen my work displayed so beautifully. They have their own corner in the museum and the lighting is close to perfection."

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-- David.Ng@latimes.com

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'VIDEOworks'

WHERE: SB London, 3740 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake

WHEN: Opens Sat., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thu.-Sat. Ends June 21.

INFO: (323) 668-0734

'PHANTOM SIGHTINGS: ART AFTER THE CHICANO MOVEMENT'

WHERE: LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.

WHEN: Ends Sept. 1. See lacma.org for hours.

PRICE: $8-$12

INFO: (323) 857-6000

ON THE WEB: For a gallery of Castano's work, go to latimes.com/castano

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