The exhibition James Castle: People, Places & Things, curated by Karen Wilkin and currently on view at the New York Studio School Gallery, features over fifty important works and ephemera, surveying Castle’s diverse modes of working. It runs the gamut from his well-known drawings of farmyards and interiors to the less familiar depictions of house, machines, clothing, and people, to his books and objects. It includes even more rarely exhibited objects – some sources for his imagery borrowed from the James Castle Collection and Archive LP and from the William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation. In her curatorial statement Wilkin says she aims to affirm why Castle should be regarded as an American master. Indeed, the breadth of his work is jaw dropping and the emotional resonance is deeply moving.
James Castle is one of the most celebrated self-taught artists, otherwise called an “outsider artist”, and also one of the most enigmatic. Born deaf and mute, he spent his entire life in rural Idaho (1899-1977). He never learned to speak or read, and making art was his main means of communication as well as life-long preoccupation. Ranging from an unused chicken coop to a clapboarded trailer, his “studio” served as a retreat to draw haunting landscapes, interiors, animals, people, and objects, utilizing home-brewed art supplies – like scavenged paper, soot and spit.
Some of Castle’s drawings and constructions reflect memories, some are completely invented, and others are based on visual stimuli in his environment such as ads, packaging, photos, or comic strips. Wilkin says that in her view Castle’s most mysterious works are his hand-drawn “books” and “photo albums, with their inexplicable letters and words. Overall Castle’s work is simultaneously poetic, naturalistic and stylized – as Wilkin says, it allows us a glimpse into his silent world.
at the NEW YORK STUDIO SCHOOL GALLERY till March 4, 2018
Open daily 10am-6pm; 8 WEST 8TH STREET, NEW YORK, NY 10011
Panel Discussion: Wednesday, February 28, 6:30pm: Karen Wilkin, David Breslin, Phillip March Jones, Ann Percy