Saturday, August 11, 2007

James Castle

James Castle in his work shed, around 1950. From James Castle: His Life and Art by Tom Trusky. The book contains 172 pages and 100 color and black and white photographs and illustrations. Tom Trusky spent 10 years researching James's life and piecing together a story that is both touching and interesting.

James Castle was born in Garden Valley Idaho, in 1899 or 1900, depending on who you ask. He was labeled as deaf and mute, but is now thought to have been autistic. When he was sent to a school for deaf children, he refused to do his chores or learn a trade. He was sent home as "uneducable." James avoided chores at home, too, disappearing daily to spend his time drawing and making books and other objects. He whittled sticks into pens and made ink with saliva and soot. For paper he used old calendars, junk mail and random bits of paper including labels from cans and empty matchboxes.

James Castle facsimile books
These are facsimile James Castle books from the Idaho Center for the Book. They are listed under "previous publications" on the web site. To enlarge the photo above, click on it. For me the interesting thing about these facsimile books is that they are bound in the same way James Castle bound them. One even has a combination of yellow and tan string.

Above is a construction by James Castle from Tom Trusky's article in Raw Vision. Unfortunately they didn't include all the photos in the online version of this article. If you're a fan of Castle's work, this issue might be worth seeking out.

What is it about these books and constructions that are so compelling? Even as reproductions they feel so personal. The imagery, the scribbled lines of "text," the letters that appear to be invented, the codes, all speak of one person's idiosyncratic view of the world. There is humor and sadness there. The humor is in the way he uses the photo album format, or the book format, for his own ends. The sadness is in his self portraits, one shows him with no arms or art supplies, after being kicked out of school.

I like to imagine James hiding away, completely absorbed in making these things. I wonder what he thought about, what he wanted to say. In some ways we can see through his eyes, but we can never see into his mind. He died in 1977. For me, he is alive and talking to me through his books.

In September there will be a James Castle show at the Greg Kucera Gallery in Seattle, WA . Tom Trusky will be giving a slide lecture/presentation titled "James Castle: His Life & Art" Saturday, September 8th at 1pm. He will also be signing copies of his Castle biography. At the bottom of the James Castle page on the Kucera site there is an interesting article from the April 26 - May 2, 2000 issue of the Village Voice.

You might also enjoy this James Castle photo set on Flickr.
And here are two books I have enjoyed about people with Asperger's syndrome:
Up High in the Trees: A Novel, Kiara Brinkman
Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant, autobiography, by Daniel Tammet