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American, 20th century.
Born 1899, Garden Valley, Idaho; died 1977, Boise, Idaho

James Castle’s drawings and collages are as beautiful as they are enigmatic. Born deaf in rural Idaho at the end of the 19th century, Castle captured his daily life in hauntingly empty landscapes and farm scenes, not simply to pass the time, but because this was his only means of communicating with people. He used paper and materials like packing tape and cardboard made available to him by his parents, who worked as postmasters, as well as images culled from packages, magazines and other print sources. Drawing with a sharpstick dipped into a mix of soot and his own spit, he conjured the people and places he knew well with consistent simplicity and integrity that marks the entire scope of his oeuvre, from the smallest sketch to more complex, inventive constructions. 

Castle is primarily known for his work as a draftsman, but recent solo shows have facilitated a more complete look at his accomplishment as a maker of intricate, precious objects that implicitly challenge everything we believe about artmaking. His assemblages reveal an artist constantly in conversation with the visual language of advertising and popular culture. Castle’s marvelous sense of humor emerges in small facsimiles—such as his tiny books made of matchsticks. Although critics and historians have attempted to gauge his worth by comparing his more complex compositions to modernist and postmodernist practices of collage and assemblage, this fails to honor his unique Outsider genius, for which there is no precedent or rival.

- Jenifer P. Borum


Selected Exhibitions

2024, Unaccompanied Conversations, Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York
2019, Memory Palaces: Inside the Collection of Audrey B. Heckler, American Folk Art Museum, New York, NY
2019, James Castle: Construction, Deconstruction and Abstraction, Boise Art Museum, Boise
2018, Outliers and American Vanguard Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
2017, Inside the Outsider: Five Self-Taught Artist from the William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation, Naples Museum of Art, Naples
2016, James Castle: The Experience of Every Day, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis
2015, James Castle, Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo
2014, Untitled: The Art of James Castle, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
2014, Self-Taught Genius, American Folk Art Museum, New York
2013, Great and Mighty Things: Outsider Art from the Sheldon and Jill Bonovitz Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia
2013, The Encyclopedic Palace, 55th Venice Biennale, Venice
2012, Rosemarie Trockel, A Cosmos, The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York
2011, James Castle: Show and Store, Museo Nacional Centro De Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid
2010, The Museum of Everything, Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, Turin
2010, James Castle: Drawings, Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco
2010, James Castle: A Retrospective, Berkeley Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley
2008, James Castle: A Retrospective, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia
2006, Inner Worlds Outside, traveling exhibition, Sala de Exposiciones de la Fundacíon "La Caixa," Madrid; WhiteChapel Gallery, London; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin
1989, Works by James Castle, Boise Art Museum, Boise

Selected Collections
American Folk Art Museum, New York
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley
Boise Art Museum, Boise
Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus
Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Willamette University, Salem
Mennello Museum of American Art, Orlando
Milwaukee Art Museum, Miwaukee
Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Museum of Modern Art, New York
American Folk Art Museum, New York
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
New York Public Library, New York
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia
Portland Art Museum, Portland
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.
Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Selected Bibliography
Gioni, Massimiliano and Natalie Bell, The Encyclopedic Palace, Fondazione La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, 2013.
The Museum of Everything, exhibition catalogue, Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli & Electa, Turin/Milan, 2010.
Inner Worlds Outside, exhibition catalogue, Fundacíon "La Caixa," WhiteChapel Gallery, Irish Museum of Modern Art & Ediciones El Viso, Madrid, 2006.
Blasdel, Gregg Nixon, Symbols and Images: Contemporary Primitive Artists, American Federation of Arts, 1970.

James Castle: Portrait of an Artist, directed by Jeffrey Wolf, Philadelphia: Foundation for Self-Taught American Artists, 2008.

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