At age 30, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member Richard Bluecloud Castaneda felt the need for a drastic change in his life. “It wasn’t necessarily a midlife crisis or anything,” said Castaneda jokingly. He was mainly unhappy with his career at that time, the year 2000. Although he had a good-paying job in the hospitality industry, he was working for the money and not happiness.
“I’ve always been a hard worker and took advantage of most opportunities that came my way, usually for better pay,” said Castaneda. “But I wasn’t happy; I didn’t actually know what kind of job I wanted, so I just kept working for more pay. I guess I was hoping or waiting for my dream job to fall out of the sky. It never even entered my mind that I might be an artist.”
The true inspiration came to him in 1999, after the birth of his son, River Castaneda. “It changed everything,” Castaneda said. “I started to wonder what I was going to be able to offer my son in this world, and how I could be a great role model to him.” Along with feeling dissatisfied in his life, Castaneda asked himself one basic question: Did he have a dream or a vision for the future? His answer was no, and that alarmed him.
“I thought to myself, What happened to my dreams?” said Castaneda. “I started remembering my childhood memories and began searching for lost passions and dreams that I perhaps had allowed to go dormant. That’s where I found memories of myself being a creative person. I remember spending hours looking through picture magazines, even coupon ads in the Sunday paper, for their photos and selling points. I wanted to how photography worked. I wanted to go beyond the surface and create my own stories.”
Facing His Fears
Castaneda decided to pursue his interest in the arts and wanted to attend college. He hadn’t graduated from high school, so when he decided to go to college he earned his General Education Diploma (GED) in San Francisco, California in 2000.
Castaneda began his college career at the Institute of American Indian Art (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he received his associate of fine arts degree in 2003. This was only the beginning of what would become Castaneda’s 10-year journey through higher education. After attending IAIA, he moved back to San Francisco to earn his bachelor of fine arts degree, which he completed in 2007. This year, Castaneda completed his education with a maters of fine arts for photography, graduating from the San Francisco Art Institute.
“The idea of college scared me for fear of failing, (supposedly) like I did in high school. But after I got over that initial fear, I got accepted into my first art school at (IAIA),” said Castaneda. “I knew immediately I was in the right place and had made the right decision to be on this path. New doors started opening up and, fear after fear, I found the courage to get through most of them and face new challenges until I wasn’t afraid anymore. I’m grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way.”
The Three P’s
Castaneda’s favorite art mediums are what he likes to call the three P’s: photography, painting and printmaking, which he combines together in his work.
“I feel there’s more to a picture than just photography alone,” said Castaneda. “I use all of the above to help find that story and add or subtract things I learn from interacting with and articulating the subject. But photography is the root of all my work. One thing I really like about photography is the collaboration process. Whether I’m photographing a landscape or working with people, I always learn more about the subject.”
Castaneda’s influences include Dorothy Grandbois and Lee Marmon, who were his first two professors in college. “I owe them much respect for teaching me the art and mechanics of photography,” explained Castaneda.
Among his favorite artists are Charlene Teters, Richard Ray Whitman, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie, Larry McNeil, Duane Slick, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. “These people helped me see the world in a whole new way through the lens of art,” said Castaneda. “The Pop Art and Neo-Dada era of Native and non-Native artists influenced me aesthetically and politically. Though my work doesn’t necessarily reflect all these artists, they’re people who have the kind of art I can appreciate.”
But his number-one favorite is Ojibwe artist Carl Beam.
“His work is diverse, especially in the use of materials and mediums,” explained Castaneda. “He uses his drawing, watercolors, etching, non-silver photography, photo transfer and installation in his work in a Rauschenberg kind of way. He passed in 2005, but his work lives on.”
Find Your Path and Follow It
Not only is finishing his education a major accomplishment for Castaneda, but he’s lucky even to be alive, he explained.
“The way I was living my life in my young years was crazy and reckless. My family and the authorities predicted that I wouldn’t live past the age of 21. I’m so glad that I finally grew up and survived,” said Castaneda. “The many art shows, articles, artist talks, awards and recently becoming represented by the Togonon Gallery in San Francisco are all confirmations that I made the right choice to follow this artistic path.”
Castaneda encourages his fellow Community members who are interested in pursuing their higher education to go for it.
“Hang on to your dreams and your culture—both of these things provided me with strength I didn’t know I had,” said Castaneda. “Whether you work toward them now or later, they are significant to your personal spirit. Be brave and try new things, take an uncertain risk every once in a while and test your limits.”
Now 40, Castaneda continues to pursue his art and the gallery scene and says he has enough work going on now to keep him busy for a while.
Castaneda is the son of Community member Richard J. Castaneda from the Lalo and Johnson family and Linda Castaneda from the Leyva and Padilla family of Portland, Oregon.
He said he would like to thank all of his family and friends “who trusted me and always encouraged and supported me to take uncertain chances, which taught me faith, and for all the support they showed me no matter what crazy ideas I have going through my wild mind,” he said.
Also important, Castaneda would like to thank the SRPMIC Higher Education Department and their staff for “the amazing job they do helping people to pursue their higher education.”
“I couldn’t have done it without them or the scholarship awards that make dreams come true,” said Castaneda.