The longer I write the more difficult it becomes to dig up stuff on artists we all know and love that hasn't already been hashed and rehashed a couple dozen times at least. So, I look toward some of the less well known painters from the annuls of art history. I've been accused a few times of deliberately digging up artists NO ONE has ever heard of just for the perversity of it. Well, if I'm going to be accused of such a grievous sin, I might as well accede to that which I've been accused. Unless you've recently stumbled into a little-known gallery on a little-known street in New York, you've probably never heard of James Castle. The gallery is the Drawing Room. It's on Wooster Street. And, the artist is from perhaps the most unlikely art area in the whole country--Idaho.
Well, maybe it's time someone wrote about an Idaho artist. James Castle was born in 1900. That's about all that can be said of him that is in any way ordinary, and even at that it must be added that he was born deaf. Given the time and place, he was twelve before anyone made a move to try to in any way mitigate his handicap; and by that time it was too late. When his parents tried to send him to a school for the deaf, he would have none of it. He never learned to read or write, or even speak intelligibly. About his only means of communication was through his drawing. But he did draw and he drew well. There is little that is crude or naive about his work. He drew only that which he knew and saw, and with the same independent spirit that bespoke his other dealings with the rest of the world.
His parents encouraged him. They bought him pencils, paper, crayons, charcoal, watercolor, but for the most part he cared little for such civilized tools. He preferred his own, sharpened sticks, an ink he made of soot from wood and oil burning stoves mixed with his own spit. For color he preferred tissue paper, made into a spitty pulp and applied with his fingers to cardboard, along with found materials such a string, and sometimes pictures from mail order catalogs. His parents ran a combination dry goods store and post office so there was never a shortage of refuse to fuel his creative binges. His subject matter revolved around his own little world, accurate drawings of interiors, his home, the store, all with a natural feel for perspective, color, composition, and detail. Each work was as much art as historic documentation of the very solitary life lived in the small town of Star, Idaho. When he died in 1977, he had a style and substance to his work, and a technique that was peculiarly all his own. It was an art of which he was the only practitioner.