The scent of paint fills the small Hialeah warehouse Yuniel Delgado Castillo calls his studio. He begins to organize some of his paintbrushes, but stops to gaze proudly at some of his paintings. He is at home in his studio.
“I wake up and go to sleep painting,” Castillo says with a smile.
Castillo’s journey through life has been tough but that hasn’t stopped him from pursuing his dream to be a successful artist. Everything he does and cares about has to do with art.
Born in Havana in 1984, Castillo was always interested in art as a child. His father was in the military, so Castillo was exposed to politics in Cuba.
In 2007, Castillo entered the San Alejandro Academia the Bellas Artes, one of the oldest and well-known fine arts schools in Cuba. He graduated in 2011.
During his time at the academy, Castillo began to realize his talent as an artist. He completed art works related to the Cuban government. His professors grew afraid of his political paintings and they never let Castillo display his art.
“They almost kicked me out of the academy because of my work,” Castillo said.
After graduation, Castillo opened a small gallery in an old Havana building. There, he began to make connections with people around the world who liked his art.
Through the gallery, Castillo was invited to New York by two Americans interested in his work. He arrived in June 2013 and soon began teaching at the Children’s Museum of the Arts in Manhattan.
Castillo then came up with his project “La Pared” (“The Wall”).
In the coming months, Castillo went through a difficult time. “A lot of the things happened with the people that brought me,” he said. “They stole some of our works of art and our money. It was hard to believe.”
Walking the streets of New York, Castillo came upon the Center for Cuban Studies. “It was incredible because I found it just by chance,” Castillo said.
The center has a gallery exclusively of Cuban art. It is run by Sandra Levinson, who opened the space in 1999. “La Pared” was exhibited at the gallery for three months.
Castillo then moved to New Jersey to find a job. He worked in a factory for awhile. “That was the hardest thing that I had to go through in this country,” Castillo said. While working in New Jersey, Castillo began to get sick.
After moving to Boston, Castillo found a Cuban family who helped him. There, he was diagnosed with diabetes and began getting treatment.
He moved to Miami in November 2014. He opened his own studio and restarted his “La Pared” project.
Now in Hialeah, Castillo on Saturday displayed “La Pared” and the works of four other Cuban artists.
He has been invited to Penn State University to speak and teach classes about Cuban art. In the coming year, he has also been invited to display his art in Luxembourg and Brazil.
Nancy Valdes, a Miami-Dade schoolteacher who takes art lessons with Castillo, lauds him and his perseverance: “Whatever you do have a passion for it. You have to create a plan and you cant stop if they close your doors. Somehow you have to keep knocking those doors down. You have a lot of barriers in your life because that’s life and he never gave up.”
Castillo feels very strongly about his calling. “I think some art nowadays has lost its passion,” he said. “My passion is culture and anything that has to do with art. I paint what I feel. Almost all my paintings have to do with my life or the lives of people that I’ve met. I like the liberty of transforming reality.”