James Castle was born in rural Idaho in September 1899. His birth was two months early and he was born completely deaf, yet James became a ground-breaking artist and his works are now collectable around the world.
James’ parents ran a post office and general store and James filled his childhood with drawing done on offcuts of used envelopes, discarded packaging and even on the back of his sister’s homework. It was his way of expressing himself and, although he had no exposure to the art world, his expression and ability matched the progression of famous art and ran parallel to Picasso's style.
Around ten years of age he was sent to a school for the deaf and blind, and lived there for five years. The punishment for not learning the deaf-signing and voice control lessons was to be smacked on the hands with a ruler and to have all personal possessions removed, including drawing gear.
Undeterred, James used sharpened sticks, soot and spit to write on any rubbish he could find so he could to express himself. He refused to learn to sign or speak and died in 1977 with boxes and boxes of his art around him that were pure expressions of his world through his eyes.
James Castle lived in a silent world and he’s made me wonder if I would write differently if stopped using all my senses.
Last night I went to a restaurant. When I walked in, I smelt the inevitable smoke that hung outside the door where people have to do that now. I saw people sitting, standing, finding tables, ordering food. I heard music, chatter, doors, cutlery on plates.
Then, I remembered James Castle. What would he have experienced in the restaurant? I couldn’t easily turn my ears off, so I closed my eyes and, suddenly, I smelt onions... and beef; I heard individual voices, but many of them; I felt the cold of the table, even though I’d not noticed it when my eyes were open before.
It seemed that my other senses had filled the gap of my sight and changed how my mind focussed on the scene. I wondered if this could deepen my writing too.
James Castle laid each of his pictures before us and let us imagine the words. Writers lay out words for the reader to get the picture so they can visualise the story. And actors speak the dialogue, and their actions give us the narrative.
Tonight on TV, someone described Kevin Spacey’s acting as: 'it’s so good, it never seems like he's acting'. For me, I want to learn to write so well that readers forget they're reading. I want them to close the book and wake in the morning not remembering if they’ve read the story in a book or if they’ve seen it as a movie.