The unedited version of this interview can be found in Autre’s Spring 2019 Print Issue. Preorder here.
Rick Castro is a legend in the queer underground scene of 1980s and 1990s Los Angeles. It was a time when Santa Monica Boulevard was rich with male hustlers, shirtless in the California sun, and the nightclubs were liminal landscapes of desire and liberation. To those who know him, he is “The Fetish King.” Alongside artists like Ron Athey, Catherine Opie, Sheree Rose and Bob Flanagan, Vaginal Davis, Kembra Pfahler, and Bruce LaBruce, Castro utilizes queer identity and the physicality of the body to express themes of marginalization and oppression. A one-time fashion stylist for the likes of Bette Midler, David Bowie, Herb Ritts, and Joel-Peter Witkin—the latter of which helped him buy his first camera—Castro’s fantasies, fetishes, and fascination with the demi-monde manifested into imagery involving extreme leather bondage and rope play. From his factory in Italy, fashion and furniture designer, Rick Owens chats with Rick Castro over the phone. They discuss fetish as an idée fixe, their former love life, the subcultures of Los Angeles and Castro’s upcoming retrospective, Fetish King: Seminal Photographs 1986–2019, curated by Rubén Esparza, opening at Tom House in April.
CASTRO: Hi, Rick! I haven’t talked to you on the phone since the ‘80s.
OWENS: (laughs) Yeah, but I’ve seen you in person since then, don’t make it sound so tragic. So, let’s talk about when we first met. We met because you had seen the nipple ring I lent to you for a shoot?
CASTRO: I didn’t know who made it at the time, so I asked the storeowner if she had any more, and she gave me your number. So, I gave you a call the following day. I used those on the saxophone player for Tina Turner.
OWENS: I remember! It was an amazing picture. That might have been my very first credit!
CASTRO: It was your first credit! Those were the days, Rick Owens. I remember like it was yesterday…
OWENS: How do you do your contemporary B&D imagery? I feel silly saying B&D, is that what I call it?
Castro: Just call it fetish. I always like that term, fetish.
Castro: You know Rick Owens: our connection has always been fetish, whether we understood it or not.
Owens: I agree with you, we both have a love of fetish. But I always thought the leather bar aesthetic was about ritual, and about men who were oppressed and brutalized for being gay, taking control and going up against their oppressor. They were creating that cycle under their own terms. The new generation is more liberated. It doesn’t have that darkness anymore. Because men don’t have as much oppression as they used to. This is just my interpretation, which could be all wrong. There was real triumph in becoming the master after being submissive for so long. In that small arena, in those dark rooms, you became the master… Are there more questions you want me to ask?
Castro: I’m more comfortable asking questions than answering questions…
Owens: Oh, god, you always have to be a top.
Owens: Although, you were kind of a bottom…
Castro: (laughs) I don’t see it in those terms…
Owens: Oh, okay. (laughs)
Castro: (laughs) To me, your aesthetic is very much like the dark side of Los Angeles.
Owens: Yeah, I agree.
Castro: Well, we romanticized it, for sure, and the idea of it being so esoteric. There was that whole cult side of Los Angeles. There were more cults in Los Angeles during the silent era, even to this day. But in Los Angeles, you can do anything. I’ve always thought in my mind that I can do whatever the fuck I want, even when I was a young kid. I used to just rebel for any reason.
Owens: I think we both were interested in the whole mythology of the movies, and the whole corruption behind it.
Castro: Well, we would definitely take the way we were seeing it. I remember when you had your studio on Las Palmas, and when I came to visit you, you had Veronika Voss on, and that had been on for a week, right? You just watched it over, and over, and over, like a backdrop.
Castro: And then, you would switch to Death in Venice and you would have that on for another few weeks. That’s fetish my dear, that’s fetish. (laughs)
Owens: (laughs) Well, I’m glad everything is coming full circle. Congratulations on everything.
Rick Castro’s retrospective, Fetish King, opens on April 6, with a reception that runs from 6pm to 8pm, and runs until April 27 by appointment. Click here to learn more. Preorder Autre’s Spring 2019 issue to read the unedited version of this interview.