Artist Profile – James Castle

James Castle

1899-1977, lived and worked in Idaho

James Castle / Untitled (Farmyard View)

James Castle / Untitled (Farmyard View)

Born in 1899 in rural Garden Valley, Idaho—only nine years after that frontier territory was admitted to the Union—James Castle mined the local landscape of his family’s homesteads and mapped his deeply private domestic world to produce a remarkable body of drawings, collages, and constructions. Deaf since birth, he never learned to sign, read, or write in a conventional manner, but instead communicated through his art. Over the course of a life lived on his family’s three successive farms, he amassed thousands of works on and in paper—his parents’ role as postmasters likely providing many of his supplies, as he used scraps of printed matter and packaging materials for use as surfaces, collage elements, and source material. The bulk of Castle’s work can be classified as drawings, rendered in his preferred medium of stove-soot and saliva applied with a sharpened stick as stylus. Known initially for his expressionistic representational landscapes and interiors, Castle has come to be recognized in recent years for the full breadth of his work, which encompasses an important body of abstract drawings, color meditations, loosely representational constructions, collages, and text drawings. Working exclusively with humble materials and always in an intimate scale, Castle created complex reconfigurations, dissections, and inventions of typeface in his text appropriation drawings and collages. He garnered some local acclaim during his lifetime (including 1963 and 1976 exhibitions at the Boise Gallery of Art) but only achieved international recognition decades after his death in 1977. In 2011, the Museo Reina Sofia held the first international retrospective of Castle’s work.



Castle NYT_March 2009



Books and Catalogs:
1. Blasdel, Gregg N. Symbols and Images: Contemporary Primitive Artists. New York: American Federation of the Arts, 1970

2. Out of the Mainstream: Independent and Visionary Art of the Northwest. Missoula, MT: Missoula Musuem of the Arts, 1987

3. Memories and Visions: Self-Taught and Outsider Artists West of the Rockies. Reno: University of Nevada/Sheppard Art Gallery, 1996

4. Butler, Cornelia. A Silent Voice, Drawings and Constructions of James Castle. Philadelphia, PA: Fleisher/Ollman Gallery with J Crist, 1998

5. Gamblin, Noriko. James Castle 1900-1977. Boise, ID: J. Crist Gallery, 1999

6. Trusky, Tom. James Castle and the Book. Boise: Idaho Center for the Book, 1999

7. James Castle: The Common Place. New York: Knoedler & Company, 2000

8. James Castle. Boise, ID: J. Crist Gallery, 2000

9. Harthorn, Sandy. James Castle: Drawings, Constructions and Books Collection of the Boise Art Museum. Boise, ID: Boise Art Museum, 2005

10. James Castle/Walker Evans: Wordplay, Signs and Symbols. New York: Knoedler and Co. 2006

11. Gurganus, Allan. James Castle. San Antonio, TX: Lawrence Markey, Inc., 2007

12. James Castle: A Retrospective. Philadelphia Museum of Art and Yale University Press, 2008

13. Rowell, Margrit. James Castle Drawings: Vision and Touch. New York: Knoedler and Co., 2009

14. Cooke, Lynn. James Castle Show and Store, Reina Sofia, Madrid, 2011.

Articles (journals and periodicals):
1. Bossick, Karen. “Mysterious Castle.” The Idaho Statesman [Boise, ID], 22 August 1994

2. Cory, Jeff. “Images In a Silent World: The Art of James Castle.” The Outsider 1, Issue 2 (Winter 1996): 19

3. Trusky, Tom. “Gifts of Silence: The Art Books of James Castle.” Biblio 3, no. 7 (July 1998): 32-37

4. Trusky, Tom. “James Castle and the Burden of Art.” Raw Vision 23 (Summer 1998): 38-44

5. Russell, John. “James Castle: The Only Practitioner of a Very Personal Art.” The New York Times (March 24, 2000)

6. Saltz, Jerry. “Home Alone.” The Village Voice (April 26-May 2, 2000)

7. Tobler, Jay. “James Castle: House Drawings.” Drawing Papers 6 (2000)

8. Trusky, Tom. “Found and Profound: The Art of James Castle.” Folk Art 24, no. 4 (Winter 1999-2000): 38-47

9. Westfall, Stephen. “Touched into Being.” Art in America (June 2001)

10. Wilin, Karen. “Images From a Life of Silence.” The Wall Street Journal (December 16, 2008)

11. Smith, Roberta. “Recreating His World in Soot, Paper and String.” The New York Times (March 27, 2009)

1. Dreamhouse: The Art and Life of James Castle. Prod. Painted Smiles Press. Dir. Peter Lutze, with Tom Trusky. Boisie, ID: Painted Smiles Press, 1999.

2. James Castle: Portrait of an Artist. Prod. Foundation for Self Taught American Artists. Dir. Jeffrey Wolf, 2008.

Select Solo Exhibitions:
A Voice of Silence: Drawings by James Castle, Image Gallery, Portland, OR, 1962

James Castle, Bush House, Salem Art, Salem, OR, 1962

James Castle, Boise Gallery of Art, Boise, ID, 1963

A Voice of Silence: Drawings by James Castle, California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, CA, 1965

James Castle, The Gallery, Seattle, WA, 1967

James Castle, Foster/White Gallery, Seattle, WA, 1974

James Castle’s Drawings, Boise Gallery of Art, Boise, ID, 1976

A World Without Words, Los Tres Gallery, Longview, WA, 1980

James Castle: A Primitive Artist, Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi, TX, 1981

James Castle, Visual Arts Center, Anchorage, AL, 1981

A Voice of Silence: A Retrospective of Works by James Castle, Boise Gallery of Art, ID, 1982

Works by James Castle, Boise Art Museum, ID, 1989

James Castle, Albertson College, Caldwell, ID

James Castle: A Retrospective, Philadelpia Museum of Art, 2008 (with tour venues the Art Institute of Chicago and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, CA).

James Castle Show and Store, Reina Sofia, Madrid, 2011.

Museum Collections:
1. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA
2. American Folk Art Museum, New York, NY
3. Intuit, Chicago, IL
4. Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI
5. The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
6. Boise Art Museum, Boise, ID
7. Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH
8. Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Willamette University, Salem, OR
9. Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
10. High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia
11. Mennello Museum of American Art, Orlando, FL
12. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
13. Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library, New York, NY
14. Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR
15. Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, WA
16. University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, CA
17. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY

Compiled by Samantha Mitchell

Artist’s Work