Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Castle Builder

This past December, a co-worker and fellow artist, Adam Ogilvie, turned me on to this terrific 5-minute video. Entitled "Bishop's Castle," the short is a well-edited introduction to Jim Bishop, an under-known contemporary artist.

Working alone on weekends (and four weekdays during the summer), the high school dropout and iron worker has constructed the eponymous Bishop's Castle in the Rocky Mountains, just outside the tiny, central Colorado town of Beulah. He began the project in 1969. At the time, he only intended to build a stone cabin, but, forty years later, that cabin has grown into an incongruous marvel.

In the first two minutes of the video, Jim Bishop seems the very picture of Outsider art heroism. Bishop works for ego and for "the glory of God." He characterizes his efforts as those of an honorable "peon," and his astonishing creation is, as he puts it, a "one-man project, donation box basis." The artist is justifiably proud of his remarkable accomplishment. Bishop's castle is not a funded public art project, yet it's far more impressive than Christo's Central Park "Gates" or Eliasson's "Waterfalls."

Not surprisingly, the castle's construction has been fraught with legal battles (over insurance, material use, and zoning) and even tragedy. In 1988, Bishop's four-year-old son, Roy, was killed at the castle site, apparently crushed by a tree that Bishop felled. One of the castle's towers is named after Roy, and Bishop says that he will inter his son's ashes there.

A rough-worn, charismatic man, Bishop tosses off memorable quips: "Engineering without money is ingenuity."; "I'm building this for myself. Basically, I'm an egotist." Early on in the short, his rugged individualist act is endearing but, as the video advances, a darker side of Bishop is revealed. He begins to rant about our nation's eroding morals and the assault on our civil liberties. Although his convictions are not entirely without merit, his attacks on big government seem increasingly irrational. Near the video's end, he shouts from one of the castle's towers, seemingly possessed by a God-given vitriol. "I'm about to pass out. I'm getting...I'm....I just gotta get the blood in the right place now. Get that camera rolling! I'm doing work! I benefit everybody!...I'm the anti-devil!" Come again?

Still, like Jean Dubuffet, I believe that (with the exception of Sunday painters) those artists wiling away in obscurity, whatever their reasons, are often producing exceptionally exciting work. Bishop is one such outsider, and his astonishing project deserves more attention.

Photo credit: ripped from Milewalker's Flickr photostream

(Note: A slightly different incarnation of this post originally appeared on the blog, Letters From the Inquisition.)


Klar said...

The video appears to be restricted, and I'm just being redirected back to the home page. Any other ideas where I might be able to catch it?

Hungry Hyaena said...

Thanks for the heads up. The link has been repaired.

Donald Frazell said...

Sounds like Simon Rodias towers here in Watts. Gotta be a little nuts to keep on working for nothing, and in need of a little attention. Working after losing his son is either madness, or being an egotistical bastard, Both are sometimes needed to finish things and see them to the end. Whatever that may be.

And Sunday painter? I am insulted, though taking off time right now for my 7'x17' triptych. Artists are not always nice people, or so I am told. :)

ACDE! Working outside the box of the institutions, where the inmates are treated and made sane for domestic consumption. Art is now Institutionalized, and so we get pablum and absurdist entertainment, not jarring and revealing reflections of all humanity, not just the vanities of the rich.

We need more truly independents, not those always pan handling trying to get money from patrons and Uncle Sam. You then become a whore, and sold. A little backbone and creativity are needed to be a creative artist after all.

Hungry Hyaena said...

Thanks for introducing me to the Watts Towers. I didn't know about Simon Rodia's project. His towers are a different face of Watts than I grew up absorbing, via news reports and pop music. Urban neighborhoods' lives are often so fascinating. In any case, based on some of what I just read, it seems that the park is drawing some art galleries to the area now.

As for the Sunday painter slur, you shouldn't take any offense; I wouldn't describe your work as that of a Sunday painter. In any case, the link was meant as a bitter joke, as even the few celebrated artists that I know still qualify as Sunday painters based on Wikipedia's definition!

Klar said...

Hmmm, I'm afraid I'm now being sent here.

Sorry for the bother, I'm just really keen to see this video!

Hungry Hyaena said...

That's odd. I just checked the link and it still works for me. Perhaps it's a cache issue, though.

In any case, the Crackle website makes you watch a short commercial before the Jim Bishop video starts.

If playback doesn't start automatically, search the Crackle website for "American Dreamers" and "Bishop's Castle." That should do the trick.

Good luck, and apologies for all the hoops you're having to jump through to find the video!

Donald Frazell said...

I got it alright. Interesting video. Not spiritual like Rodia's towers, purely of the earth, which considering where it is, is perfect. The mans tremendous ego and pain get lost in the power of nature, they work together.

The Towers are in constant need of repair, need several million right now as they are iron rods tied together and covered with cement and broken bottles and tiles. Water gets in to rust the rods and chuncks fall off. The city has tried to pull them down before as a healthrisk, but they stand and wont go down.

The Getty is supposedly involved, they, or more importantly, a rich land baron(opportunist thief) like Eli Broad could fund the whole thing at a stroke of the pen, for far less than is being put up at his many pyrmaids to himself, the Broad Contempt at LACMA, MoCA, his own nmuseum to be built in Beverly Hills, and art headquarters in Santa Monica. A string of Mausoleums strung across WLA along Wilshire to the sea.

He could preserve and get credit for a far greater work of art than in any of his houses of his "glory". Only the Norton Simon and Getty have truly great works, LACMA a few but not in his absurdist house. Kiddie fun houses. And as it is in Watts, which is actually more Latino now, he wont bother, the rich white kids and his buddies wont travel down the Blue Line to see it. They have had a gallery and music stage there for decades, know a woman who is one of the directors there, but havent seen her for ages. Have a rhythmic music festival, from Latin America, Japan, Africa everywhere with complex intwining patterns.

Donald Frazell said...

I am surpised you never heard of it, but East Coast types tend to think of LA as one big parking lot with 38 small congested towns between smog obscured off ramps. With nothing but barrios and hoods in between the "desirable" spots. Long Beach is a very nice mix, not too rich, not too poor. Even listen to Snoop Dogg, he never goes on about racism or poverty, more partying, weed, hoes, and dealing with the popo's. The cops here are very relaxed, a little too much if you ask me, the LA County Sheriffs are another story completely.

Ought to do a story on the Towers then, and perhaps Wayfarers Chapel, built by Frank Lloyd Wrights son, and much better than dads work I think. We got married there, only fits one hundred. But all glass and wood, with stone floor. The trees overhead, ferns inside, and the ocean below, with the Palos Verdes(green hills) behind. Both used to be very well known, famous across the world, but forgotten in our age of excess, where bigger was better, and more was all. Small jewels, organic, spiritual, alive in nature with a calling out to god. Not useful in the heathen times we are now leaving behind.

We got a few cultural spots, our gardens are incredible, Huntington Gardens and Library and Descanso teh biggest and bst, but also teh LA Arboretum, where many films are made across from Sanbta Anita race track. A nice one in Palos Verde, the Southbay Arboretum, Long beach has a very nice nature center, with large ponds, filled with turtles, egrets, herons, and hawks, as well as my dragonflys and squirrels and even coyotes are known to hunt from there, tore up a few Fofo dogs, and foxes.

We arent too bad, but you gotta know where to look. Griffith Park is great, oops sorry, sounding like a tourism commercial. There is more than Hollywood here, a small and irritating group of weirdos. From WeHo to NoHo.

Just about done with my first panel, I just might take it to the Towers and see if they would be interestd, i am taking it to a show in Pasadena anyway on Saturday. Would be perfect actually, though i would like the stupid but gorgeous small LBMA take it. MoLAA is much better and run well, but we could use a jazz based museum somewhere here in LA. Coltrane must run through the chapel when I do eventually build it, it would be great, a Judgement Chapel, one we must all become aware of. We must all account for our lives at some point.

Now, if I can just get Yeshua's head right, I will be finished with this beast. Off to work.


Hungry Hyaena said...

Thanks for the "tourism commercial." I don't mind. I know very little about Los Angeles, so it's all worthy information for me, and a little neighborhood pride is healthy.

I'm sorry to read that Yeshua's head is vexing you! Good luck.

Donald Frazell said...

Think I got it, had to be different yet fit in with the flow of colors. Synthetic cubism but in a very Cezannian way, built of seperate bits of geometric color, each like a brush stroke or group of hatchings like Cezanne did. Finding the balance and color creating the forms nd life of the work are always formost The total lack of understandings of his work and other post impressionists is why art is so colorless these days. Sure, big field of pure color, but no relationships, color is harmony. Make chords of color which make them far more rich, deep, and resonant.

I may have to go back and do some drawings or small color ones to get it right, the rest all works now, though i changed his color scheme to not be seperate, reds, now as well as blues, greens, yellows oranges violet, black, white and browns. All colors actually, at their purest. Not a blend in the bunch. Only been able to do that twice so far. They are the strongest when i can.

Browns are the transitions, yet also solid and enrichening, and why i have issues selling the big ones or ones not obviously white, White folks dont want brown folks on their walls it seems, and white tends to wash out colors schemes and browns give them far more depth, as Gauguin showed. Even when they are white folks, people think they are "ethnic" go figure. But I look mostly at brown folks so thats what i deal with, such is life. And since most of the world is brown, in nature and humanity, the "first" world better get used to it. Looove my deep rich burnt siennas. Color of my baby.

art collegia delenda est

Hungry Hyaena said...

As I'm fond of saying Donald, "make me a mutt, make me mocha." ;)

Donald Frazell said...

Yeah, I got a mutt, like Obama likes to call himself. Problem is they think they are golden children sometimes, yet insecure and hiding it. Inspite of growing up in the land lf mutts, none more so than the LBC.
We need adversity to overcome and develop character, give them an easy time, and they get soft and fearful of challenges. Even with great gifts, the dredded P word arises. Potential. Which means nothing by 20. Do, or die. Or at least get a damn job. My older chocolate one who grew up in adversity is the ambitious one, about to go to med school. go figure.
Oh well, did my job. Got the had done, on to the next panel. No nature, all man before god. Cant always be ballanced.