For as long as he can remember, Joe Castillo has been creating art.
“My mom swears my first solid food was (a) Crayola crayon,” Castillo said. “My mother was an artist, my father was an artist, my aunt ... was an artist. I was drawing and painting and sketching almost before I could walk and talk.”
Known as one of the final six contestants on “America’s Got Talent” Season 7 for creating memorable sand art performances while on the show, Castillo will be coming to Johnson City, a place he called home for four to five years, to perform at Grace Fellowship Church on Aug. 18.
He said his start in sand art began when he was a pastor at a church in Richmond, Ky.
“I was pastor of a church at the time and I wanted to find a way of incorporating the arts. The arts were very important to me. I was always experimenting with new things, new ways of telling stories that people would remember,” Castillo said.
He said his son, Jose, showed him a grainy video of someone in Budapest, Hungary, creating sand art pieces and with his church at the time moving into a movie theater, he decided to try his hand at creating it himself so he could project the sand stories on the big screen.
Castillo said he went to Lowe’s one day to pick up mulch and came home with a bag of sand, a kitchen light fixture and table legs to start work on the art form.
He said he started out in sand art recreating images and storylines from The Passion of the Christ and the prodigal son, as well as Christmas stories. Castillo said he began to do more secular and corporate work as well.
Castillo said learning and perfecting the art form was a grueling process to start at first.
“It took me about two months to get my first piece together,” he said. “Like a musical instrument, the more you play it the better you get and the easier it becomes to write those songs and to tell those stories. Probably nowadays for a 10-minute performance ... I could probably put something together in about a week, week and a half. Most of the time between 10 and 15 minutes is kind of an average.”
Castillo’s popularity as a sand artist has grown since his time on “America’s Got Talent” and said he and his wife, Cindy, have now traveled to 43 states and 22 countries so he can perform.
“We’ve gotten a chance to perform for ... some presidents, some kings, some dignitaries, CEOs. It’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “I think one of my favorite performances was performing in Bogotá, Colombia, for the presidential campaign of Juan Manuel Santos, who was just voted into office a year and a half, two years ago. We got a chance to perform for 3,500 ... Santos supporters at a presidential rally and told the story of Colombia. It was a fabulous, fabulous event.”
Besides his schooling at Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Fla., Castillo said he now sees connections to past artist’s paths he’s taken to the sand art he creates now.
“One of the things I found interesting, looking back on the sand story, is a lot of the jobs that I did as an early artist, just to make a buck, were jobs that were very conducive to doing sand art. For example, I airbrushed T-shirts for awhile, which required putting it down quickly with no preliminary sketches. I did courtroom drawings, which is sort of the same thing, cartoons of people on the beach, pastel portraits at the local department store,” he said. “All those are the kind of artwork that you had to do quickly and get it down without any redos.”
Recently moving to Atlanta to be near the convenience of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Castillo said he’s excited to come back to Johnson City to perform “God’s Love Story” at Grace Fellowship. He said there are two scheduled performances on Aug. 18, one at 4 p.m. and the other at 6:30 p.m. Each will be an hour and 15 minutes long.
“It involves my strongest sand story pieces and ... it really is sort of a full package,” he said. “I attended Grace Fellowship for ... four or five years when we lived in Johnson City and so I know a lot of people there and have (a) great affinity with the church and pastor. Johnson City was one of my favorite places to live.”
For more information on the performance, visit the church’s website at www.gfcnow.com.