James Castle | New York | January 13—February 12, 2022 | David Zwirner
A detail from the artwork titled Untitled (studio/studio) by  James Castle, dated n.d.

James Castle

David Zwirner is pleased to present an exhibition of works by James Castle (1899–1977). Organized in collaboration with the James Castle Collection and Archive LP, the exhibition offers an extensive look at Castle’s captivating visual world, which documents his home and surroundings in and around Boise and central Idaho through vivid drawings and assemblages.

An overview of the artist’s expansive practice, this exhibition explores how Castle, who was born deaf, found his primary means of expression through drawing and other forms of art making. Using sharpened sticks and soot from his family’s wood stove, which he mixed with his own saliva, Castle created elaborate and detailed drawings. These intricate works embody a sense of lived-in familiarity and display the artist’s preternatural understanding of perspective and spatial relations and his deep sensitivity to his environment. As John Beardsley notes, “What Castle found in this … place became the subject of acute visual attention and near photographic memory: minute details of the spaces he inhabited provided him with an inventory of images that he would repeat, transform, and manipulate in his art for the whole of his life. He remembered—and drew—the contours of every room, every bed and bureau, the patterns of wallpaper, the exteriors of houses and barns and other outbuildings, adjacent roads, fences, and fields.… Castle was able to recall the exact ridgelines of a mountain visible from his childhood home and replicate it in drawing after drawing.” 1

Read more

John Beardsley, “Introduction,” in James Castle: Memory Palace (Boise: James Castle Collection and Archive LP; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021), p. 22.

Image: James Castle, Untitled (studio/studio), n.d. (detail).

Dates
January 13February 12, 2022
Artist
James Castle
A photograph of James Castle sitting in a wheelbarrow by Bob Peach.

James Castle sitting in wheelbarrow, Boise, Idaho, 1950s. Photo by Bob Beach. Courtesy Special Collections and Archives, Boise State University

 

James Castle sitting in wheelbarrow, Boise, Idaho, 1950s. Photo by Bob Beach. Courtesy Special Collections and Archives, Boise State University

 

James Castle (1899–1977), who was born deaf, found his primary means of expression through drawing and other forms of art making. This exhibition, a recent New York Times Critic’s Pick, offers an extensive view into the self-taught artist’s captivating visual world, which documents his home and surroundings in and around Boise and central Idaho through vivid drawings and assemblages. The works in this exhibition are all drawn from the James Castle Collection and Archive LP.

 

An untitled work on paper by James Castle, undated.

James Castle

Untitled (studio/studio), n.d.
Soot on found paper
13 x 19 3/4 inches (33 x 50.2 cm)
Framed: 18 3/4 x 25 3/4 inches (47.6 x 65.4 cm)

“To the best of our knowledge, he remained unable (or chose not) to read, write, speak, lip-read, or otherwise communicate via conventional forms of language for the rest of his life.… By adulthood he had adopted a daily routine centered on his art that would change little in the course of decades.”

—Nicholas R. Bell, director of Glenbow Museum

 

 

 

Young James Castle In Garden Valley

James Castle as young boy in Garden Valley, Idaho. Courtesy James Castle Collection and Archive LP

 

James Castle as young boy in Garden Valley, Idaho. Courtesy James Castle Collection and Archive LP

 

Castle was raised on a small farm outside of Boise, Idaho, as the fifth of seven surviving children and the son of postmasters who worked from the living room. He began drawing around the age of seven. 

The Castle family moved from their Garden Valley farm in 1923 and ultimately settled on a five-acre plot of land outside of Boise, where the artist lived in his family’s home, then an old shed, and later, in a private trailer on the property.

 

 
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (farmscape/farmscape), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (farmscape/farmscape), n.d.
Soot on found paper
3 3/4 x 6 3/8 inches (9.5 x 16.2 cm)
Framed: 9 1/2 x 11 3/4 inches (24.1 x 29.9 cm)

The artist’s family home and surrounding landscape became a lifelong source of inspiration, galvanizing a prolific body of drawings, collages, and constructions made through found materials and with homemade tools and invented techniques.

 

The former barn of the Castle family in Garden Valley

Former Castle family barn, Garden Valley, Idaho. Courtesy James Castle Collection and Archive LP

 

 

Former Castle family barn, Garden Valley, Idaho. Courtesy James Castle Collection and Archive LP

 

 

A photograph of Garden Valley by the Beach family

Garden Valley, Idaho. Photo by the Beach family. Courtesy James Castle Collection and Archive LP

Garden Valley, Idaho. Photo by the Beach family. Courtesy James Castle Collection and Archive LP

James Castle on a horse in Boise

James Castle, Boise, Idaho. Courtesy James Castle Collection and Archive LP

 

James Castle, Boise, Idaho. Courtesy James Castle Collection and Archive LP

 

A photograph of the Castle shed in Boise, courtesy of the family

Castle shed, Boise, Idaho, 1950s. Photo by the Castle family. Courtesy Special Collections and Archives, Boise State University

Castle shed, Boise, Idaho, 1950s. Photo by the Castle family. Courtesy Special Collections and Archives, Boise State University

James Castles shed in the 1950s

Castle shed, Boise, Idaho, 1950s. Photo by the Castle family. Courtesy Special Collections and Archives, Boise State University

Castle shed, Boise, Idaho, 1950s. Photo by the Castle family. Courtesy Special Collections and Archives, Boise State University

A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (porch doors/porch door), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (porch doors/porch door), n.d.
Soot on found paper
3 x 5 3/4 inches (7.6 x 14.6 cm)
Framed: 8 5/8 x 11 1/4 inches (21.9 x 28.6 cm)

Castle made elaborate and detailed drawings using sharpened sticks and soot from his family’s wood stove, which he mixed with his own saliva as a binder.

 

A photograph of James Castles tools taken by Cate Brigden

Castle’s tools. Photo by Cate Brigden. Courtesy James Castle Collection and Archive LP

 

Castle’s tools. Photo by Cate Brigden. Courtesy James Castle Collection and Archive LP

 

“What Castle found in this … place became the subject of acute visual attention and near photographic memory: minute details of the spaces he inhabited provided him with an inventory of images that he would repeat, transform, and manipulate in his art for the whole of his life. He remembered—and drew—the contours of every room, every bed and bureau, the patterns of wallpaper, the exteriors of houses and barns and other outbuildings, adjacent roads, fences, and fields.… Castle was able to recall the exact ridgelines of a mountain visible from his childhood home and replicate it in drawing after drawing.”

—John Beardsley, Oberlander Prize curator

 

 

 
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (red house), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (red house), n.d.
Color on found paper
5 x 6 3/4 inches (12.7 x 17.1 cm)
Framed: 10 3/4 x 12 1/4 inches (27.3 x 31.1 cm)

Castle incorporated color into many of his drawings using watercolor, crayon, laundry bluing, and myriad other materials—including advertisements or tissue paper mixed with his own saliva—to create washes of color that give the works a dreamlike, surreal quality. 

A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (farmscape), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (farmscape), n.d.
Soot on found paper
8 1/2 x 10 inches (21.6 x 25.4 cm)
Framed: 14 1/4 x 15 3/4 inches (36.2 x 40 cm)

“Castle is looking at really what’s in front of him, what’s around him; it’s almost like the drawings show us him going into the world, him looking at the world, him observing the world, and in some cases, the perspective is very unusual.… There’s none of that stuff you’d associate with the conventions of art.”

—John Yau, poet and art critic, in the film James Castle: Portrait of an Artist

A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (figures, house), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (figures, house), n.d.
Color on found paper
3 1/2 x 6 3/4 inches (8.9 x 17.1 cm)
Framed: 9 1/8 x 12 1/4 inches (23.2 x 31.1 cm)

James Castle sitting in front of his trailer, family on patio, Boise, Idaho, 1974. Courtesy James Castle Collection and Archive LP

 

James Castle sitting in front of his trailer, family on patio, Boise, Idaho, 1974. Courtesy James Castle Collection and Archive LP

 

Castle’s abstracted color-wash paintings often featured small houses that his family came to describe as “dream homes,” reflecting the artist’s desire for a space of his own.

In 1962, the family used proceeds from Castle’s art sales to purchase him a trailer, where he’d live for the rest of his life.

 
An untitled work on paper by James Castle, undated.

James Castle

Untitled (figure with cane, porch), n.d.
Soot on found paper
4 1/2 x 6 inches (11.4 x 15.2 cm)
Framed: 10 1/4 x 11 1/2 inches (26 x 29.2 cm)

Several of Castle’s mixed-media constructions and other sculptural works are also featured in the exhibition. Using twine at times to sew together disparate scraps of found and cut cardboard and paper, Castle fashioned figural forms and objects that include chairs, baby carriages, birds, and architectural elements.

 

A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled  30 James Castle Untitled (figure, red stripe dress), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (figure, red stripe dress), n.d.
Soot, wheat paste, and string on found paper
28 x 9 1/4 inches (71.1 x 23.5 cm)
A photograph of James Castles Cozy Cottage trailer workspace

James Castle workspace in his 1950s model Cozy Cottage Trailer, 1963. Photo by Jack McLarty. Courtesy Special Collections and Archives, Boise State University

James Castle workspace in his 1950s model Cozy Cottage Trailer, 1963. Photo by Jack McLarty. Courtesy Special Collections and Archives, Boise State University

A photograph of James Castle at his workspace in his shed

James Castle at workspace in his shed, Boise, Idaho, c. 1955. Photo by Joe Beach. Courtesy Special Collections and Archives, Boise State University

 

James Castle at workspace in his shed, Boise, Idaho, c. 1955. Photo by Joe Beach. Courtesy Special Collections and Archives, Boise State University

 

“In some very real way, his isolation is actually the truth that we all embody but to some degree we are able to deny.”

—John Yau

A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (flamingo construction), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (flamingo construction), n.d.
Soot, color, and string on found paper
28 3/4 x 10 inches (73 x 25.4 cm)

Castle stored his drawings, handmade books, and ephemera in small boxes and bundles that he carefully assembled and wrapped in paper or fabric and bound with twine. These small containers and art capsules were stored throughout his family’s property—in the walls, underneath floorboards, and along the rafters—reflecting both their importance to him and his desire to protect the artwork stored inside them. 

 

A photograph of James Castles many bundles

Examples of James Castle’s bundles. Courtesy James Castle Collection and Archive LP

Examples of James Castle’s bundles. Courtesy James Castle Collection and Archive LP

“The wedding of his attentive, mysteriously somber vision and the burnished physicality of his materials yields objects of haunting, deeply moving presence.”

—Ken Johnson, art critic

 

 
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (plaid pattern construction), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (plaid pattern construction), n.d.
Soot, color, and string on found paper
8 x 4 1/2 inches (20.3 x 11.4 cm)

James Castle and sisters looking at a painting at Boise Gallery of Art (now Boise Art Museum), 1963. Photo by Idaho Statesman. Courtesy Special Collections and Archives, Boise State University

 

James Castle and sisters looking at a painting at Boise Gallery of Art (now Boise Art Museum), 1963. Photo by Idaho Statesman. Courtesy Special Collections and Archives, Boise State University

 

Though he shared his art with his family, friends, and visitors to his home, Castle would not exhibit his work publicly until he was in his early fifties. Then, his nephew Robert Beach, who was a student at what is now the Pacific Northwest College of Art, brought Castle’s drawings to the attention of his professors, resulting in his first exhibition.

An installation view of The Encyclopedic Palace

Installation view, The Encyclopedic Palace, 55th Venice Biennale, 2013. Photo by Francesco Galli. © Archivio Storico della Biennale di Venezia – ASAC

 

Installation view, The Encyclopedic Palace, 55th Venice Biennale, 2013. Photo by Francesco Galli. © Archivio Storico della Biennale di Venezia – ASAC

 

The installation view of Untitled: The Art of James Castle

Installation view, Untitled: The Art of James Castle, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, 2014

Installation view, Untitled: The Art of James Castle, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, 2014

Installation view, Where We Are: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1900–1960, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2017. Photo by Ron Amstutz. Digital image © Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

 

 

Installation view, Where We Are: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1900–1960, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2017. Photo by Ron Amstutz. Digital image © Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

 

 

An installation view of Outliers and American Vanguard Art at the National Gallery

Installation view, Outliers and American Vanguard Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 2018. Photo by Rob Shelley

 

Installation view, Outliers and American Vanguard Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 2018. Photo by Rob Shelley

 

An installation view of James Castle: A Retrospective

Installation view, James Castle: A Retrospective, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2008

 

Installation view, James Castle: A Retrospective, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2008

 

“An energizing presentation of the artist’s landscapes, interiors and sculptural objects at David Zwirner Gallery lets visitors enter his secret universe.”

 

—John Vincler, The New York Times

Installation view of the exhibition, James Castle, at David Zwirner in New York, dated 2022.
Installation view, James Castle, David Zwirner, New York, 2022
Installation view, James Castle, David Zwirner, New York, 2022
James Castle bundles on display at David Zwirner Gallery.
Installation view, James Castle, David Zwirner, New York, 2022
Installation view, James Castle, David Zwirner, New York, 2022
Installation view of the exhibition, James Castle, at David Zwirner in New York, dated 2022.
Installation view, James Castle, David Zwirner, New York, 2022
Installation view, James Castle, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Inquire about works by James Castle

An untitled work on paper by James Castle, undated.

James Castle

Untitled (studio/studio), n.d.
Soot on found paper
13 x 19 3/4 inches (33 x 50.2 cm)
Framed: 18 3/4 x 25 3/4 inches (47.6 x 65.4 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (green door), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (green door), n.d.
Soot, color, and string on found paper
27 1/2 x 15 1/2 inches (69.8 x 39.4 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (chair construction), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (chair construction), n.d.
Wood, shoelace, and string on found paper
36 x 14 x 1 inches (91.4 x 35.6 x 2.5 cm)
An Untitled drawing by James Castle, undated.

James Castle

Untitled (farmyard, giant drive-through tree), n.d.
Soot on found paper
10 1/4 x 13 1/8 inches (26 x 33.3 cm)
Framed: 16 x 18 3/4 inches (40.6 x 47.6 cm)
An untitled drawing by James Castle, undated.

James Castle

Untitled (tunnel tree/lines), n.d.
Soot on found paper
3 7/8 x 6 3/4 inches (9.8 x 17.1 cm)
Framed: 9 1/2 x 12 1/4 inches (24.1 x 31.1 cm)
An untitled drawing by James Castle, undated.

James Castle

Untitled (farmscape, columnar forms), n.d.
Soot on found paper
7 1/2 x 7 1/2 inches (19.1 x 19.1 cm)
Framed: 13 1/4 x 13 1/8 inches (33.7 x 33.3 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (farmscape, tents), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (farmscape, tents), n.d.
Soot on found paper
5 3/4 x 9 3/8 inches (14.6 x 23.8 cm)
Framed: 11 1/2 x 14 3/4 inches (29.2 x 37.5 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (farmscape), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (farmscape), n.d.
Soot on found paper
8 1/2 x 10 inches (21.6 x 25.4 cm)
Framed: 14 1/4 x 15 3/4 inches (36.2 x 40 cm)
An untitled work on paper by James Castle, undated.

James Castle

Untitled (figure with cane, porch), n.d.
Soot on found paper
4 1/2 x 6 inches (11.4 x 15.2 cm)
Framed: 10 1/4 x 11 1/2 inches (26 x 29.2 cm)
An untitled drawing by James Castle, undated.

James Castle

Untitled (farmhouse, stairs, figure), n.d.
Soot on found paper
4 7/8 x 5 5/8 inches (12.4 x 14.3 cm)
Framed: 10 1/2 x 14 1/8 inches (26.7 x 35.6 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (flamingo construction), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (flamingo construction), n.d.
Soot, color, and string on found paper
28 3/4 x 10 inches (73 x 25.4 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (goose construction), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (goose construction), n.d.
Soot, yarn, and thread on paper
13 1/2 x 11 7/8 x 1/2 inches (34.3 x 30.2 x 1.3 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (rooster construction), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (rooster construction), n.d.
Color and string on found paper
10 x 8 3/4 inches (25.4 x 22.2 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (white bird, construction), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (white bird, construction), n.d.
Color and string on found paper
6 3/4 x 10 1/2 inches (17.1 x 26.7 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (vessel), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (vessel), n.d.
Color and string on found paper
8 x 10 1/2 inches (20.3 x 26.7 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (figure, red coat), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled, n.d.
Soot, ink, and string on found paper
11 1/2 x 5 1/8 inches (29.2 x 13 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (figure in tan coat), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (figure in tan coat), n.d.
Soot, ink, and string on found paper
11 3/4 x 6 inches (29.9 x 15.2 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (five sisters), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (five sisters), n.d.
Soot on found paper
4 1/8 x 7 inches (10.5 x 17.8 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (red coat, construction), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (red coat, construction), n.d.
Soot and ribbon on found paper
10 3/4 x 8 1/8 inches (27.3 x 20.6 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (plaid pattern construction), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (plaid pattern construction), n.d.
Soot, color, and string on found paper
8 x 4 1/2 inches (20.3 x 11.4 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (purple coat construction), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (purple coat construction), n.d.
Soot, twine, and string on found paper
12 1/2 x 8 3/8 inches (31.8 x 21.3 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (attic/attic), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (attic/attic), n.d.
Soot on found paper
8 7/8 x 11 1/2 inches (22.5 x 29.2 cm)
Framed: 14 1/2 x 17 1/8 inches (36.8 x 43.5 cm)
An untitled drawing by James Castle, undated.

James Castle

Untitled (bedroom), n.d.
Soot on found paper
5 x 8 3/4 inches (12.7 x 21 cm)
Framed: 10 5/8 x 14 1/4 inches (27 x 36.2 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (house), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (house), n.d.
Color on found paper
3 1/4 x 4 3/4 inches (8.3 x 12.1 cm)
Framed: 10 1/8 x 9 1/8 inches (25.7 x 23.2 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (figures, house), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (figures, house), n.d.
Color on found paper
3 1/2 x 6 3/4 inches (8.9 x 17.1 cm)
Framed: 9 1/8 x 12 1/4 inches (23.2 x 31.1 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (colored mounds, landscape), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (colored mounds, landscape), n.d.
Color on found paper
3 3/8 x 6 3/4 inches (8.6 x 17.1 cm)
Framed: 9 1/4 x 12 1/4 inches (23.5 x 31.1 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (brown house), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (brown house), n.d.
Color on found paper
5 1/8 x 6 3/4 inches (13 x 17.1 cm)
Framed: 10 3/4 x 12 1/4 inches (27.3 x 31.1 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (blue house), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (blue house), n.d.
Color on found paper
4 3/8 x 6 1/8 inches (11.1 x 15.6 cm)
Framed: 10 1/8 x 11 1/2 inches (25.7 x 29.2 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (red house), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (red house), n.d.
Color on found paper
5 x 6 3/4 inches (12.7 x 17.1 cm)
Framed: 10 3/4 x 12 1/4 inches (27.3 x 31.1 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (interior with piano), n.d

James Castle

Untitled (interior with piano), n.d.
Soot on found paper
5 1/4 x 7 1/4 inches (13.3 x 18.4 cm)
Framed: 11 x 12 3/4 inches (27.9 x 32.4 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled (studio/studio), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (studio/studio), n.d.
Soot on found paper
5 3/8 x 7 3/8 inches (13.7 x 18.7 cm)
Framed: 11 1/8 x 12 7/8 inches (28.3 x 32.7 cm)
An untitled drawing by James Castle, dated circa 1951.

James Castle

Untitled (interior, figures, fireplace), c. 1951
Soot on found paper
4 1/2 x 5 7/8 inches (11.4 x 14.9 cm)
Framed: 10 1/4 x 11 1/4 inches (26 x 28.6 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled  30 James Castle Untitled (figure, red stripe dress), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (figure, red stripe dress), n.d.
Soot, wheat paste, and string on found paper
28 x 9 1/4 inches (71.1 x 23.5 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, titled Untitled, n.d.

James Castle

Untitled, n.d.
Soot, wheat paste, and string on found paper
21 x 11 inches (53.3 x 27.9 cm)
A mixed media artwork by James Castle, Untitled (figure with hat construction), n.d.

James Castle

Untitled (figure with hat construction), n.d.
Color, fabric, ribbon, and string on found paper
21 1/4 x 15 inches (54 x 38.1 cm)
An untitled drawing by James Castle, undated.

James Castle

Untitled (studio), n.d.
Soot on found paper
4 1/2 x 5 3/4 inches (11.4 x 14.6 cm)
Framed: 10 1/4 x 11 1/4 inches (26 x 28.6 cm)

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