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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

James Castle

James Castle

American, 1900 - 1977

Opinions vary as to whether James Castle was born deaf or autistic. Clearly, he never learned to speak, read or write, and refused to be taught to communicate in any of the accepted forms of signing or finger spelling. What physical signaling he did was a highly personal expression of home signing used within his own family. Language, letters, numbers and symbols apparently meant something to him and often appear in his work, but it's unclear on what level he perceived them.

Castle's most eloquent means of expressing what he felt about the world around him was through drawing in the works on paper he made for nearly 70 years until his death in 1977. Whether sketching the domestic interior scenes of his home and family, or rendering the rustic architecture and pastoral terrain of rural Idaho, Castle tried to place the viewer within his own idiosyncratic world.
Using stove soot mixed with his own saliva on the tips of sharpened sticks, Castle devised a unique substitute for graphite or ink. Despite the rudimentary materials and eccentric technique, Castle achieves an astonishingly varied sense of light and shade in each work with powerful lines and brilliantly nuanced textures that enliven the surface. By all accounts, Castle's mastery of perspective drawing was self-taught from observation and mimicry. This ability became more assured as his work progressed over the 70 years in which he made art.

Like other self–taught artists, such as Gregory Blackstock, Henry Darger, or Bill Traylor, the peculiarities of Castle's life can be emphasized to the extent that they overshadow the extraordinary accomplishments of his life's work. The Greg Kucera Gallery is pleased to present Castle within the fuller context of contemporary art as a significant artist of the 20th century.

In recent years Castle's work has been collected by the Art Institute of Chicago; Boise Art Museum; Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle; Museum of American Folk Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art; The New York Public Library; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and others. A large exhibition of his work is currently being planned for a tour of major museums across the US.

- Greg Kucera

  • American
  • drawing
  • drawing
  • Boise, ID
  • Garden Valley, ID

Seattle Art Museum acknowledges that we are on the traditional homelands of the Duwamish and the customary territories of the Suquamish and Muckleshoot Peoples. As a cultural and educational institution, we honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future. We also acknowledge the urban Native peoples from many Nations who call Seattle their home.

Learn more about Equity at SAM