David Zwirner is pleased to present an exhibition of works by James Castle (1899–1977). Organised 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
Castle incorporated colour into many of his drawings—a number of which will be on view—using watercolour, crayon, laundry bluing, and myriad other materials to create washes of colour that give the works a dreamlike, surreal quality. Contrasting with many of the soot drawings, the artist's colourful works frequently emphasize flatness over spatial depth and detail, while highlighting his palette choices and the texture of his surfaces.
Several of Castle's mixed-media constructions and other sculptural works will also be 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. 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.
Reflecting on the power of Castle's art, art historian Alexander Nemerov notes, 'The spirit of these things left to us is generous. What they reveal is that the world we all lived in ... always did glow with the radiance of some other world, a vision this artist could see but we couldn't.... What is revealed at last is that the world always was a revelation, had we but known it.'2
1 John Beardsley, 'Introduction,' in James Castle: Memory Palace (Boise: James Castle Collection and Archive LP; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021), p. 22.
2 Alexander Nemerov, 'Introduction: The New and the Never-Known,' in Untitled: The Art of James Castle. Exh. cat. (Washington, DC: Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2014), p. 15.
Press release courtesy David Zwirner.