Every time I go to Washington D.C., I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to view amazing art for free. And every time I go, I’m surprised at how bored I am with traditional portraiture.
Don’t get me wrong- the Portrait Gallery* is a worthwhile visit, always. But sometimes I crave something with more character, more quirkiness, and a bit less…refined.
That’s why stumbling across the James Castle exhibit was the best moment of my day trip to D.C. on Saturday (besides learning that the moon’s soil surface is created by the repeated impact of meteors- cool!) Suddenly I found myself immersed in just the kind of art I was craving, and was overjoyed that the museum chose to highlight such a unique artist. James Castle is not a name I had come across before, but after first look at his odd, sketchy style I was in love.
To give some background information, the official James Castle website says:
“James Castle (1899-1977) was a self-taught artist who created drawings, handmade books and constructions for nearly seventy years. Collected by major museums and individuals throughout the US and Europe, his work has been the subject of retrospectives organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2008 and by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid in 2011. Castle is known for the skill of his draftsmanship, his unique subject matter, and for his use of unusual, found and homemade materials. His recurrent and diverse themes tell an intimate story of a life lived in rural Idaho during the early 20th century. Castle’s imagery captures the simple beauty and mystery of ordinary places and things.”
Castle was profoundly deaf from birth, and attended the Gooding School for the Deaf and Blind in southeastern Idaho for 5 years from 1910-1915. It seems that, from his artworks, Castle was fascinated by written language and numbers but it was unknown to what extent he could read. He used found materials to create his pieces, and even created pigments from leeching color out of crepe papers. His works became popular very quickly in when his nephew came home on a break from the Museum Art School in Portland, Oregon in the 1950’s but his family became overwhelmed and denied access to his work until 1998. It was then that his works were again introduced to the public at the Outsider Art Fair in New York City.
Among his more abstract work, James Castle also drew farmscapes, schoolhouses, and the interior of his studio. He obviously had an eye for perspective but what strikes me is the pervasive personality that runs through each piece. He’s not striving to copy a style or start an artistic revolution…this art is for himself and himself alone.
I admire this mentality, a mentality that perhaps we need more often adopt. For as much as I can create in a day, it’s should never be enough and it should never should come from a place of attempting to impress- it should almost be seen as coming from a place of necessity. I fully believe the Innisfree artists need to create and I believe even more that they need to be heard…and their voices come through so profoundly and strongly through art it cannot be ignored.
James Castle was such a delightful discovery, and such a welcome shift from the typical art seen in traditional galleries. The world needs more of this- a change of perspective!
*Not to be misleading, the Portrait gallery has a wonderful range of styles- it’s just always refreshing to see untrained art.