By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Jun 07, 2005 at 5:16 AM

{image1} There are some who claim that it doesn't take much to be an artist these days, yet there are professionally schooled artists everywhere who are struggling to make it. So how does a guy with no formal art training and who admittedly failed his high school art classes become the "it" guy of sorts when it comes to the artistic décor of several Milwaukee clubs?

For John Castro, or as he signs all his work, "Johnny," it involves a chance encounter with an art supplies store, the Home Depot and a few friends in the right places.

As a kid, Castro was very interested in art, spending the bulk of his time scribbling cartoon characters and comic book heroes. In his early teens he got into mural street graffiti, but by age 16 he had pretty much put all things artsy on the back burner.

In 2003 that all changed with a trip to the store.

"About two years ago, a friend brought me to an art supplies store and it just hit me," says Castro. "I knew I wanted to make art my life." That day Castro did something he had never done before; he picked up a paintbrush and painted on a canvas. He was hooked.

"I started out doing abstract paintings and I came up with different ideas as I worked," the 24-year-old says. "I wanted to do more. So I started adding objects in my artwork such as metals and hardware."

A day job at the Home Depot provided the inspiration he needed to stay fresh with ideas. "They are constantly throwing interesting stuff away: pallets, glass, pullies, whatever. I decided to make art out of their garbage."

What resulted was a series of mixed media originals that have become the focal point of many Milwaukee club-goers. But with no formal art training to fall back on, he had to rely on his sheer talent and a few good local connections to make it happen.

"I've known the owners of Cush and Fly Bar for years," he says, "Without them, I don't know how I would have gotten my work out there. Now you can see his work at Cush, Fly Bar, CO2 and at Follicle Hair Studio.

In an effort to combine two things he feels passionate about, Castro is hosting an art show at Moct on June 18 to benefit the American Diabetes Association (ADA). "My grandma died from diabetes, so I really wanted to donate to the charity."

The show, which starts at 7 p.m. and goes until bar close, will feature Castro's collection of paintings and sculptures. Local photographer Colleen Swartz of Digital Magic BigShots will also exhibit her work. Everything is for sale, and half of the proceeds benefit the ADA.

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”