Castle (1899–1977) was born deaf, and although he could communicate idiosyncratically he never learned to speak or use sign language properly. Raised in relative poverty in rural Idaho, his parents were proprietors of a general store that also served as the town's post office. Consequently, there was an abundance of packing supplies, string, and paper available to him. The primary materials of his working artistic life were soot mixed with his own spit, applied with sticks onto paper, and cardboard rescued from the trash bin. For many of his drawings he scraped the inside of ice cream cartons using a shard of glass or a walnut shell in order to soften and pulp the waxy surface. He acquired his unusual palette by leaching colors from crepe paper and cheap wax crayons. In his book How to Look at Outsider Art, Lyle Rexer makes important distinctions among the broad terms of outsider, primitive, naïve, and self-taught art, writing that "outsider art derives its power from its very limitation, its sui generis ON James Castle: resourcefulness and lack of moderation." In this manner, Castle created a large body of extraordinary, idiosyncratic paperworks, inadvertently contributing to the genre of pulp painting. The idea of art patronage is conventionally associated with dynastic families such as the Medicis, the Guggenheims, or Rockefellers. But in its own way, James Castle's family was an important art patron. A surfeit of chores on the farm beckoned every able body, yet because of Castle's obsession with drawing—in fact, he seemed to have no other passion—he was never forced to work and was instead encouraged to concentrate on his art, which turned out to be as bountiful as it was varied. He lived his early years in Garden Valley, Idaho, and despite the Edenic promise of that name, his soot and spit drawings describe a less sentimental picture. The observational drawings of his surroundings, kitchens, barns, landscapes, for example, have an unflinching directness, there is something less than cozy about them. Opaque and resistant to easy interpretation, they are reminiscent of Walker Evan's direct yet enigmatic images from the 1930s. The gritty realism is sometimes interrupted by totem-like structures that rise up regularly like rough-hewn versions of Stanley Kubrick's monoliths in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Castle's family described James as forever hunched over his desk with his little bowl of soot paste and a wet stick, his hand moving rapidly between soot and paper. He spat water and enzymes; his saliva was the lubricant, the medium of gathering and dispersal, the life giver. His fluid softened the surface of the paper allowing the stick to furrow deeper into its fibers. In addition to the soot and spit drawings of landscapes and architecture, Castle developed alphabets and pictographic systems filling books with mysterious markings that sometimes evoke elementary school readers, and at other times suggest graphic advertisements. Perhaps because of his lifelong deafness, it is not surprising that when Castle did represent people they appear uncommunicative; instead of animated flesh and blood, humans are represented as blocky, mute, and constructed like a chair or a façade of a building. As always, using scavenged materials (his family offered art paper and paints but he refused to use them), Castle sutured his human and animal figures together with string, the utilitarian stitching becoming another method of markmaking. Although nominally three-dimensional and figurative, his humans and animals are abstractions, almost like written language. His Long-legged Black Bird, constructed out of tar paper, cardboard, string, and ribbon, has elemental elegance and talismanic power. Two Girls in Tan Coats stand side by side like stubborn statues, like Diane Arbus's twins, challenging us to read beyond surfaces. In describing the art of the outsider it is tempting to pathologize or place the work within some extraordinary biographical or place the work within some extraordinary biographical context. Castle's circumstances certainly qualify for such an interpretation. context. Castle's circumstances certainly qualify for such an interpretation. But fundamentally Castle was a committed artist who But fundamentally Castle was a committed artist who accepted the body he occupied and the materials he found in his accepted the body he occupied and the materials he found in his immediate environment, transforming his auditory isolation into immediate environment, transforming his auditory isolation into a vividly depicted world of images, language, and structures. With a vividly depicted world of images, language, and structures. With no sense of career or art-historical context, James Castle conjured no sense of career or art-historical context, James Castle conjured his universe through the power of personal necessity lubricated his universe through the power of personal necessity lubricated with a modicum of spit. with a modicum of spit.