Soot, Spit and Paper

The artist often bundled his artworks and hid them in walls. Credit… Maris Hutchinson/David Zwirner.

James Castle (1899 – 1977) was born deaf in rural Idaho, and seems never to have learned to read and write. Formally untrained, he “dedicated his life to making art among the farms and ranches in and near Boise.”

His principle medium throughout was soot from the family stove mixed with his own saliva on the repurposed material he salvaged from his family home, which doubled as a post office and general store.

(John Vincler, “Soot, Spit and Paper: James Castle’s Transfixing Worlds,” NYTimes, 1-13-22)
“Untitled” shows a farmhouse, stairs, and figure. The mix of real and imagined feels starkly contemporary and conceptually rich. Credit… James Castle Collection and Archive LP.

Castle would bundle his works and hide them away in walls and outbuildings, and even in holes.

Untitled” (farmscape). Cut off from the art world, Castle incorporated into his landscapes sculptural elements, like power lines, that look surprisingly contemporary. Credit… James Castle Collection and Archive LP.

Not included in a Castle exhibition at the David Zwirner Gallery of Manhattan are “… his drawn reproductions of product packaging, his handmade books and calendar-like constructions, as well as his experiments with hand-drawn typography.”

Untitled (flamingo construction),” one of several bird constructions. Credit… James Castle Collection and Archive LP.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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5 Responses to Soot, Spit and Paper

  1. What an interesting story and work. I wonder if James Castle received any recognition during his lifetime?

    Liked by 1 person

    • JMN says:

      A great question, Sue. I did not think he did, but returned to the article to verify, and found this Information: “Though he exhibited regionally and on the West Coast in the final decades of his life, Castle worked largely without contact with the art world. His breakthrough retrospective was posthumous in 2008 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.” His is a touching story in many ways. He was deemed “uneducable” at the school for the deaf he attended as a youth. But he seemed to have security in the family home. His family called the figures he crafted from homely materials “his friends.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Those wrapped bundles are sumptious

    Liked by 1 person

  3. JMN says:

    Aren’t they extraordinary? There are so many interesting aspects to this man, the materials he used, how he worked (hand-drawn typography struck a chord with me), and how secretive he was. I’m quite fond of the flamingo!

    Liked by 1 person

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