Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Upriver with Joe Castle

Bellevue sculptor explores the shadow

Express Staff Writer

?Bone Man? by Joe Castle.

Once known for his sleek and refined sculptures based on classical notions of balance and composition, Bellevue artist Joseph Castle has begun a compelling series of work drawn from the raw edges of the human psyche.

Drawing on ideas from tribal shamanism as well as mythical themes in the work of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, Castle is creating a series of bronze sculptures from assembled animal bones, pieces of clay and his own personal journey through the Collective Unconscious. The figures are beautiful and challenging, expressing the anguish and hope of a new birth.

"For more than 20 years my inspiration has been to refine my work to its basic essence," he says while giving a tour of his studio at the end of Muldoon Canyon in Bellevue. Graceful, white sculptures embrace one another in a nearby field. They're emblems of transcendence from an earlier period in the artist's life. "Now I feel as though I have shifted my work to reveal what that essence is."

Closer to his home, a dark creature skulks in the bushes. Another one is upright and twisting back in a gesture of primordial longing. Nearly grotesque if not for their ardent emotion, Castle's new creatures represent a vital and energetic path toward self-knowledge, a path begun with the passing of the artist's father two years ago.

"This is all shadow stuff," says the artist. "I am working to stimulate the viewer into the dynamic sphere of the imagination.

"Everybody has this stuff going on. What do you do when you are trying to atone for something? Or are ashamed of something? There are myths concerning these things. I am trying to codify these myths in my work. The symbols I use are codes for the subconscious. The animals have different meanings."

Last year the artist was given the skull of a boar by a friend.

"The skull reminded me of the William Golding novel 'Lord of the Flies,'" recalls Castle, who quickly made plans to incorporate it into a sculpture entitled "Shame." "In that story, the boar's head was symbolic of domination over nature. When the boys killed the boar, they achieved domination, but they also felt shame for the killing."

In another Castle sculpture entitled "Sacrifice," Abraham is offering his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice to the God of the Old Testament. "My Father's Rib" suggests a theme of succession and inheritance. The bones, clay and burlap used to make these pieces, suggest that the narratives, whether archetypal, biblical, or drawn from personal intuition, are older than language itself.

Although Castle draws images from dreams and intuition, his fiancé, Michelle Feldman, points out that he is "an artist with intention. He researches his symbols to find their historical significance." It's a practice that began with studies at The Barnstone Studio in Allentown, Pa. There, Oxford-trained instructor Myron Barnstone established an academy after World War II in order to revive classical training methods in the study of art. Barnstone's emphasis on the intellectual rigors of art making in a master-apprentice system has stayed with Joe Castle, the-student, even as he ventures into risky and unexplored terrain.

"Myron broadened my perception of art from an intuitive practice to a logical understanding," Castle says. "But he also said, 'now that you know the rules, you can break them.'"

The artist's new work represents a return to that rich and vital field of intuition and raw emotion—but this time he travels with a steady hand and depth of soul.

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