First and only West Coast visit of a career retrospective dedicated to this celebrated self-taught artist
Berkeley, CA, December 18, 2009-(Download a PDF version of this press release.) The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) presents James Castle: A Retrospective, the first and only West Coast destination for a career-spanning exhibition of the renowned self-taught artist. Organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the show is on view from February 3, 2010 through
April 25, 2010.
Over the course of his life, James Castle (1899-1977) produced a body of work that is as varied and immense as any self-taught American artist of the last century. Raised in rural Idaho and by all accounts deaf since birth, Castle's life was one of profound isolation. He attended a school for the deaf as a child, yet was dismissed as “uneducable,” never learning to read, write, sign, or lip-read. Castle retreated to the family farm where he would begin to create a singular artistic language of shapes, figures, landscapes, and text to begin to communicate with and make sense out of the world around him.
Castle spent his formative years in Garden Valley, Idaho, where his family operated a post office and general store. By the early 1930s the family had migrated to a farm outside of Boise where he would spend his adult life. Castle's work provides an unobstructed view of his daily life from both of these settings. Many of his tonal drawings are of landscapes from the perspective of the family homestead or of local streets and buildings. Other drawings reveal the interiors of his homes and barns. When humans appear in his compositions they are most often square, always stiff, and observed from a quiet distance.
White Columns Director and Curator Matthew Higgs, who tabbed the Castle retrospective as number two on his “Best of 2009” list in Artforum, writes of Castle's artworks: “As a sustained visual account of a time and particular place, they are remarkable for their keenly perceived particularity; as an independently developed body of work, they are staggering in their ingenuity.”
The vast majority of Castle's art falls into four signature styles, each of which will be meticulously displayed at this retrospective. There are his tonal drawings which he composed by dipping sharpened wood sticks and twigs into a graphite-like ink mixture of stove soot and saliva (he typically refused the store-bought materials with which his family supplied him); painted color washes incorporating dampened color papers; bound textbooks-pages upon pages of drawings and alternating sheets of text (often cut out of publications or packaging, but sometimes drawn); and cardboard constructions-most often human figures or animals constructed out of discarded cardboard, paper, or packaging, fastened with twine or yarn.
Despite the barrenness of Castle's surroundings and the solitary quality of his life, his works lack any sense of loneliness, pain, or worry. On the contrary, “making art for Castle,” says BAM/PFA Chief Curator Lucinda Barnes, “was clearly an act of confident pleasure and curiosity, an act in which he immersed his full awareness.”
Related Materials: A fully illustrated catalogue published by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in association with the Yale University Press explores the particular world that fed Castle's imagination. The volume traces his art from the early 1960s to the present and redefines the understanding of the artist's life, working methods, creative processes, and conceptual investigations. The book also comes bundled with the documentary film James Castle: Portrait of an Artist, directed by Jeffrey Wolf and produced by Wolf, Jill Bonovitz, and the Foundation for Self-Taught American Artists.
Related Programs: In conjunction with the exhibition, BAM/PFA is offering guided tours on most Thursdays at 12:15 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. A curator's talk by BAM/PFA Chief Curator Lucinda Barnes launches the tour series on Thursday, February 4 at noon. Yale School of Art dean and professor Robert Storr will be delivering a lecture on February 19 at 6:30 p.m. in the Museum Theater. In this major illustrated lecture, Storr will consider multiple dimensions of Castle's artistic production. Storr's visit is cosponsored by the Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities at UC Berkeley. Several other public programs will be announced in conjunction with the exhibition.
James Castle: A Retrospective was organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and made possible by The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, through the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative. Additional funding was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts as part of American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius. The Berkeley presentation has been made possible in part by the Karen Lennox Gallery, the Fields Family Foundation, Luba Mosionzhnik, Betsy Aubrey and E. Steve Lichtenberg, M.D., and anonymous donors, and by the generous support of the BAM/PFA Trustees.
Image Caption: James Castle: Girls in tan coats with gable or landscape faces, n.d.; corrugated cardboard, tan paper from corrugated cardboard, cream paper, wrapping paper with silver printed design, thin gray cardboard faced with green paper, gray-green paper (from bag); cut, torn, folded, and wrapped; punched, stitched and tied with thin and thick white string; dark purple felt-tipped marker, wiped soot wash; 11 1/2 x 5 1/8 in.; The James Castle Collection, L.P. Courtesy of J Crist Gallery, Boise, Idaho.
The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) is the visual arts center of the University of California, Berkeley, one of the nation's leading research universities. BAM/PFA aims to inspire the imagination and ignite critical dialogue through contemporary and historical art and film, engaging audiences from the campus, Bay Area community, and beyond. One of the largest university art museums in the United States in both size and attendance, BAM/PFA presents fifteen art exhibitions and five hundred film programs each year. The museum's collection of more than 15,000 works, distinguished by artistic excellence and innovation, intellectual exploration, and social commentary, includes exceptional examples of mid-twentieth-century painting, including important works by Hans Hofmann, Jackson Pollock, Eva Hesse, and Mark Rothko, as well as historical and contemporary Asian art, early American painting, Conceptual and contemporary international art, and California and Bay Area art. The PFA film and video collection now includes the largest group of Japanese films outside of Japan, as well as impressive holdings of Soviet silents, West Coast avant-garde cinema, seminal video art, rare animation, Central Asian productions, Eastern European cinema, and international classics.
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