Sunday, March 14, 2010

Soot and Saliva: The Art of James Castle

Gabled building in vertical segments 

Using scraps of paper, string, soot, and saliva, James Castle (1899-1977) spent a lifetime creating art from a little bit of this and a little bit of that while living on farms in Boise, Idaho. The world of silence for a man who couldn't hear, speak, or read, burst with images, forms, and lettering that created their own unique sound.

Woman in red coat and boater hat,
collection of Susan and Alvin Chereskin

For almost 70 years, Castle found beauty in the most intimate of materials: siblings' schoolwork, reused flyers, brochures, envelopes, news clippings, paper containers, cardboard of any type. He'd make three-dimensional pieces of people, animals, or objects like chairs by layering and sculpting diverse types of paper and securing them with string, thread or ribbon.

Five dolls on top of piano 

His tonal images of landscapes and interiors, were drawn with a homemade paste made from soot and saliva that looked like charcoal when applied to paper using sticks or tissue. Castle paid attention to how things worked and examined objects like doors, locks, and even illustrated building schematics.


But for a man who couldn't read, the beauty of words were always present, whether through examining the mechanical construction of lettering or in the many small books he created. And in many ways, it are these that are the most poignant.

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