Grace Fellowship Church found itself operating at near capacity Sunday afternoon with a familiar face, artist Joe Castillo, performing for around 600 people.
Castillo, whose popularity has boomed since earning a spot as a finalist on the TV show “America’s Got Talent,” brought his Sandstory art to the church he had become so familiar with when he lived in Johnson City 15 years ago.
His unique form of art allows him to tell stories with his hands. He uses sand on lit screens to create colorful, intricate and ever-changing scenes, which are projected onto screens above the audience. His fast-moving art caught the eye of an aspiring artist who was seeing Castillo perform for the second time.
“I draw and paint and it’s hard for me to put something together in an hour,” Caleb Santiago said. “To see his attention to detail and be able to make something so beautiful in like 20 seconds is awesome.”
Santiago and his brother, Nicholas, said they were both hooked on Castillo after seeing him two years ago in Pigeon Forge at the “TCTC,” or the Tennessee Christian Teen Convention.
Like many others in the crowd, the Santiagos were at Grace Fellowship Church for the second time Sunday, having also come over from Elizabethton for the morning service as they do each week.
Castillo said his aim is to bring art to church and present stories in a different way. He said he finds the best way to build community is to tell stories with each other, and be able to learn and develop strong bonds. A bond Castillo has kept has been with the church’s head pastor, Tom Oyler. Olyer, who introduced Castillo wearing one of his now-famous black Berets, relished the times and stories he and Castillo were able to share during his time in the area.
Just after hitting the stage, Castillo went into his story about how he struggled for a while to find out what kind of artist he wanted to become and how he ultimately found himself performing his Sandstory art across the U.S.
He said that he didn’t want to be an artist that had to compete with classically trained artists, and joked that the profession had an Occupational Safety and Health Administration mandate requiring him to wear his beret.
In one of the crowd-pleasers of the show, Castillo did a patriotic performance to “God Bless the U.S.A,” in which a certain buzz hit the crowd when the line “to the hills of Tennessee” was played.
The Prodigal Son, The Passion and the creation story were some of the other stories Castillo told over the course of the 70-minute show.
While he did have a table set up with items for sale, such as DVDs, berets and prints, Castillo had a bigger message than selling his goods. He handed out literature and information on how to help those less fortunate in other parts of the globe, and stressed the importance of that to the crowd.
“I would much rather have people sponsor a child than buy a DVD or item from my table,” Castillo said.
Jose Castillo, Joe’s son, still lives in Johnson City and is credited by his father as being a great part of his success. It was Jose who excitedly showed his father the clip of people using sand and pushed him to take it up and put his own spin on it.
And that he did. Jose said his father had no idea that it would come to all this, and that he’s still so surprised by how famous he is.
“It’s funny that everything he’s done in his life has led him to this point,” Jose said. “He’s been in advertising, he’s done courtroom drawing where he’s had to sketch faces quickly and he’s worked at the county fair doing airbrushed faces.”
The two traveled to Palm Springs, Calif., a few years ago to film a TED Talk clip and showcase Castillo’s talents.
TED Talks became famous on the Internet through video clips, which is where Jose and his father are making strides in getting Castillo’s art recognized.
“(Jose) always has new ideas for me in the electronic world. He’s creative and helps with my digital to digital,” Castillo said with a twinkle in his eye and a wave of his fingers, showing that the artwork created with his digits ends up in the digital world.
More on Castillo can be found at www.joecastillo.com.