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.)