Federico Castellón

Spanish/American, 1914–1971

Untitled (Surrealist Figure Composition), 1938

Oil on board

20 x 15½ inches

Signed and dated lower lef

When the seven-year-old, Spanish-born Castellón arrived in Brooklyn, he could not speak a word of English. But he could draw and soon developed into a superb draftsman, winning prizes while still in high school. Two murals he painted for the school gained attention in the art world, including that of muralist Diego Rivera and scholar Carl Zigrosser, then at the Weyhe Gallery. In 1934 the gallery offered Castellón his first exhibition in New York. That year he also received a fellowship from the Spanish government to travel and study in Europe. Castellón’s paintings of the 1930s are considered amongst the most distinctive surrealist works by an American artist, and by 1940 he had established himself as an important artist with exhibitions at major museums.

Castellón’s technical acumen is manifest inUntitled (Surrealist Figure Composition). The dark figure appears to be the symbolic repository for Castellón’s expression of dissociation and displacement. The inclusion of human heads suspended within in this figure acknowledges man’s attraction to societal taboos and the world of unseen thoughts. The juxtaposition of this dark figure with the white-skinned partially robed woman creates an erotic tension that permeates the painting. The “floating eye”—provocatively depicted here in a stiletto-heeled shoe—adds to the sense of psychological voyeurism.