James Castle


produced drawings, constructions, and handmade books that are representations of the world he inhabited in rural Garden Valley, near Boise, Idaho, throughout hislife. Born deaf and mute, Castle’s prodigious art output was both a personal statement and a way of communicating with others. Executing his works with charcoal andsaliva while using sharpened sticks as brushes, Castle also employed a variety of other materials, such as scraps of butcher paper and wrapping paper, postal forms,and cardboard to draw on. He used string, thread, and yarn for tying his constructions and binding his books. Even after his work was “discovered” in the 1950s,Castle resisted the use of traditional art supplies, preferring instead recycled materials. The artist treated all his subjects with eloquence and grace, sometimes usingcolored tissue paper, which he ground to a pulp and mixed with saliva or water, to provide color to the images in his work, such as doorways, houses, and barns, aswell as everyday objects, like beds, dressers, doorknobs, shelves of dishes, chairs, and articles of clothing. Various interiors are presented as seen through doorways,and this perspective lends intimacy to Castle’s subjects. His people-free interiors and details are subdued and tranquil. But Castle also invented a series of geometric, blocky people for some of his artwork, companions clearly derived from his active imagination.Castle never learned sign language nor to read and write. At home, a rudimentary hand-signing system was devised for communication. At age twelve, his parentssent him and his deaf sister to a school for the hearing-impaired in Gooding, Idaho, where he remained for less than a year. He was unmotivated, and was dischargedas “non-educable.” Castle’s interest in art, however, was consistent throughout his life. He further developed his own art over the years, and his drawings indicate thathe eventually understood perspective, vanishing points, horizon lines, and the effects of shading. Early works, according to scholar Tom Truskey, were stashed away inthe family icehouse that served as his studio. Small thematic bound books were filled through the years with references to numbers, letters, postage stamps, dates,advertising logos, and other printed material. Castle also produced such highly prized constructions as a carefully rendered shirt with folded back collar and buttons, and a stitched and colored abstraction on cardboard.Castle’s nephew Ron Beach, a graphic designer, brought his work to the attention of art professors and gallery owners in Portland, Oregon. In the 1950s,exhibitions in art galleries in the Northwest established a reputation for the artist, but friction developed between his family and gallery owners, collectors, and museum professionals. The public reception of Castle’s work at the Outsider Art Fair of 1997 in New York, however, firmly established him as a major twentieth-century artist.
See also
Outsider Art
Butler, Cornelia.
A Silent Voice: Drawings and Constructions of James Castle.
Philadelphia, 1998.Cory, Jeff. “Images in a Silent World: The Art of James Castle.”
The Outsider,
vol. 1, no. 2 (1996).Gamblin, Noriko.
James Castle, 1900–1977.
Boise, Idaho, 1999Tobler, Jay.
James Castle: House Drawings.
New York, 2000.Trusky, Tom. “Found and Profound: The Art of James Castle,”
Folk Art,
vol. 24, no. 4 (winter 1999/2000): 39–47. ——.“James Castle and the Burden of Art.”
Raw Vision,
no. 23, (summer 1998): 38–44.Yau, John.
James Castle: The Common Place.
New York, 2000