Lot 12
  • 12

Wendell Castle

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  • Wendell Castle
  • Above Within Beyond
  • inscribed Castle, dated 15, numbered 1/8, inscribed with the foundry mark CWG 2015 and stamped with the foundry logo
  • bronze
  • 151 by 207 by 162cm.
  • 59 1/2 by 81 1/2 by 63 3/4 in.

Catalogue Note

Wendell Castle’s work has consistently sought to challenge artistic conventions and to break down the barriers that have traditionally separated the worlds of design and fine art. It was whilst studying sculpture at the University of Kansas in the late 1950s that he made his first piece of furniture – a coffee table to furnish his student flat.  His art teacher at the time told him he was wasting his time with furniture but Castle, then only in his twenties, disagreed: ‘I thought why can’t furniture be as important as sculpture? Why can’t it be an art form?’ (quoted in Mari Slater, 'Profile: Wendell Castle on Furniture Design as Sculpture', Whitewall, 9th January 2013, online resource).

This realisation proved a turning point and had a profound influence on his development as an artist. He began working on furniture, initially in wood, and his first piece, Stool Sculpture was produced at about the same time. The title of this work was a declaration in itself; as Castle later said: 'From the very beginning I wanted my work to have the same qualities as sculpture, and be accepted on the same terms' (quoted in Emily Evans Eedermans et al., Wendell Castle. A Catalogue raisonné 1958-2012, New York, 2015, p. 15). In these early carved wood pieces, Castle was responding to the influence of artists including Arp, Brancusi and Moore who had turned to direct carving as a mode of expression. Castle was attracted by the idea of carving something from a whole, but the organic forms that resulted from these artists’ careful balance of figuration with abstraction also had an important impact on him.  

This incorporation of traditional sculptural influences into pieces of furniture would define the rest of his career; he became a sculptor working in the medium of furniture. This innovative way of thinking was matched by his experimental approach to working, investigating the properties of different mediums, pioneering techniques such as stack laminating and more recently using digital modelling. Balancing often very modern technical processes with an emphasis on handcrafting that is the inheritance of his earliest pieces, Castle has developed a distinctive aesthetic that beautifully assimilates the functionality of furniture with sculptural forms. As he explained: 'I think that one of the things that is consistent is that when I stopped making sculpture and decided I would concentrate fully on furniture, it was because I felt it could be the same as sculpture. It had all those qualities. And that made it ok for me to do. Nowadays, sculpture can be almost anything, but I still like to think of it as having volumes and voids and all those things that are probably Brancusi-based thinking' (quoted in ibid., pp. 40-41).

In more recent works such as Wandering Mountain, Above Within Beyond and Temptation, these volumes and voids create a sensuous physicality. Cast in bronze and designed with an outdoor setting in mind, these works combine a solemn monumentality with a natural fluidity of form. This series of bronzes is not Castle’s first experiment with placing works in a public and outdoor space; earlier examples include the almost purely sculptural Twist (1972-3) and the whimsical Unicorn Family (2011) – a full suite of living room furniture installed in the grounds of the Memorial Art Gallery at the University of Rochester, New York. However, the organic shapes of these bronzes create a new interplay between the works and their surroundings; the cohesiveness of the design is such that the seats only emerge on close inspection, appearing to spring out of the conical structures that support them and which in turn seem to grow out of the ground on which they are planted.  Viewed in the round, these pieces seem to be in a state of constant flux, oscillating between furniture and sculpture, and embodying the inventive spirit that has been the hallmark of Castle’s career.