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Turkey
Turkey, Date unknown
James Castle, American
Thin gray cardboard; cut, torn, and folded; punched, stitched and tied with white string; red and brown washes, soot-and-spit stick-applied lines and wiped soot wash, black wax crayon
Overall (irregular): 12 x 11 1/2 inches (30.5 x 29.2 cm)
Gift of the James Castle Collection, L.P., Boise, Idaho, 2007
2007-121-5
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The Art of James Castle


Most of Castle’s imagery is rooted in his rural surroundings, especially in the interiors and exteriors of the various structures on the three small farms in southwest-central Idaho that his family occupied successively during his lifetime. Over and over again, Castle drew the living rooms, bedrooms, barns, sheds, chicken houses, and other buildings that were his familiar milieu, often combining elements of different locales from memory and introducing surprising juxtapositions of odd, imaginative forms.

Because he used found papers, not commercially produced ones, and primarily homemade rather than professional artists’ materials, Castle’s works have a singular, immediate, and natural quality. His most numerous drawings, largely of farmscapes and room interiors, are done in a medium he invented by combining soot from wood-burning stoves with water or saliva, applied to pieces of discarded paper or cardboard with small hand sharpened sticks and wads of paper or fabric. His constructions are whimsical, complex layerings of cut and shaped pieces of paper or cardboard representing the things that especially appealed to him, such as farm animals, furniture, clothes, household objects, and architectural elements. His colored pulp drawings usually depict simplified, front-facing figures or little houses and often blur off into quasi total abstractions as Castle worked his dissolved pigments into selectively roughened paper surfaces.

Among the most evocative of his creations are his “word pieces,” in which words or phrases are drawn with soot or cut out and collaged onto pieces of found paper. These are all the more poignant when one realizes that the artist was born into silence, did not speak, read (to any large degree), or write, and may well have had little or no comprehension of the words’ meanings.

Castle explored a wide range of visual and conceptual modes, approaches, or strategies in his art, a circumstance unusual in the work of the self-taught. In solving the artistic problems he set himself he adopted a surprising number of styles or devices used by various "mainstream" artists throughout the twentieth century, of which he was presumably unaware as he had almost no first-hand experience of the professional art world. These practices include surrealism (or supra-realism), abstraction, collage, appropriation, grid or serial arrangement of images, and the use of text or language as the subject of art.
 

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