Material Culture Auctioneers is extremely proud to be presenting three works by famous self-taught American artist James Castle (1899-1977) at our May 5th auction, “New World Orders: Art, Furnishings, Collectables and Decorative Arts.” Castle was the subject of a major retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which subsequently toured in 2008-2009, and most recently had a large exhibition in Madrid, Spain.
Born completely deaf, Castle communicated with his world, in part, by creating artwork out of found objects–largely packaging, mail, and food containers—and created materials. Castle stayed in his native Idaho community for all of his life, and it is unclear whether he used sign language, or to what extent he could read and write. Scholars agree, however, that he knew little if anything about the world of art beyond his own creations, which make their many parallels to the journey of “mainstream” art throughout the twentieth century all the more stunning, ingenious, and prescient. His isolation, both from the larger art world and from speaking with the people around him, endows his collages and assemblages with a keen sense for uncovering the strange beauty of found objects, and his drawings present a world at once familiar and surreal.
Castle’s work “Labor Day,” valued at $4,000-$6,000, is an excellent example of the artist echoing devices being explored, unbeknownst to him, in the artistic movements of the mid-twentieth century. The painting, which simply consists of the words LABOR DAY in a drawn serif font, explores the concept of text or language as art. The fact that Castle’s own level of literacy is unknown suffuses his text-based works with both poignancy and mystery. We will also be showing two untitled works by Castle in soot, which he would mix with water or saliva to create a home-made ink. Both are on found paper, and a natural, immediate quality springs from the marriage of these discovered materials. The first depicts a house, drawn on the back of a photocopy advertising “Home Dairies Vanilla ice cream,” while the second picture shows five figures, drawn with the square heads frequently seen in Castle’s work. Both also feature pale colors of an unknown origin, and are expected to fetch $3,000-$4,000 each.