James Castle’s ingenuity extended beyond his practice to his tools and materials. He made his primary set of tools out of repurposed objects he found, including sharpened sticks, apricot pits, swabs of cotton, and broken pen tips he dipped into an ink Show More of soot and spit. Castle collected soot by banging out the stovepipe attached to the wood-burning stove. When the stove was upgraded to electric, family members began to collect soot from the Boise Veterans Administration Hospital to continue providing this important material to Castle.
Without instruction, Castle taught himself how to create perspective in his drawings and he did so masterfully. It appears he learned through endless practice, repetition and experimentation, faithfully copying images and then manipulating them.Show More In many of his landscape drawings, Castle used roads, trees, fences and power lines to emphasize depth of field.
Castle collected and faithfully copied photographs from the newspaper, product packaging, and marketing materials, some of which were from the Minneapolis-based Art Instruction Schools. The school’s “Draw Me” advertisements Show Moreinvited readers to assess their artistic prowess by copying an image (pirates, dogs, deer, people) and mailing in the finished drawing for review by “art professionals.” Castle often tested his hand by drawing nearly exact copies of such ephemera.
CASTLE AT DESK
This photograph is believed to date from the early 1950s, when Castle was in his early fifties. He typically worked at a modest wooden desk, hunched over, inches from the drawing at hand, working quickly and assuredly. He was fiercely protective Show Moreof his studio space and tried to maintain privacy. However, his nieces and nephews launched many attempts to spy on Castle and catch a glimpse of him drawing. Sometimes they even slipped notes under his door, asking if they could watch him work. To monitor trespassers, he placed a feather in between the top of the door and the doorframe as an ersatz security system.
Though Castle lived most of his life in remote rural areas of Idaho, he was able to access a much broader world through printed materials. He came of age during the heyday of newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals, all of which Show Morewere overflowing with rich graphics, photographs, and text that provided inspiration for his art. Additionally, Castle had nearly unlimited access to printed materials when his parents ran a general store and post office from their living room in Garden Valley. After the family moved to Boise, the steady flow of paper ceased and Castle’s hunt for materials became a daily ritual. His search sometimes led to repurposing milk cartons or his siblings’ homework, complete with grades and teacher notes. Family members also regularly helped collect materials for Castle and left them on the kitchen counter each morning.
Castle’s bundles and boxes are testaments to his layered approach to making his work. The artist meticulously sewed together pieces of cardboard and other recycled materials to create boxes to house his drawings for safekeeping. Show MoreThe bundles were gathered with myriad types of stock—Sears, Roebuck and Company packaging makes a few appearances—and cinched with bits of string, twine, or strips of denim or fabric cut from discarded clothes. Castle often hid his bundles, sometimes high up on rafters, beneath building foundations, and inside walls.