Friday, January 2, 2009

Introduction + The Castle Builder

Michael has kindly invited me to become an (ir)regular contributer to Letters From the Inquisition. At his request, I'll preface my first post with a brief introduction.

My name is Christopher Reiger. I am an artist and writer currently living in Queens, New York. I've known Michael as a friend and professional peer for over a decade. We met in 1996 at the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, Virginia. During our time at William and Mary, we co-founded Synoddity, a cross-disciplinary arts organization. Synoddity championed generalism over specialization but, acknowledging that our current body of knowledge is increasingly divided and sub-divided, encouraged conversation and exchange across fields. In many respects, Letters From the Inquisition is similarly inclined, and I'm pleased to be a part of it.

I have a blog of my own, Hungry Hyaena, that explores art, ecology and related (or somewhat related) miscellany. I also contribute art writing to ArtCal Zine and MyArtSpace>Blog.

A selection of my drawings and paintings can be viewed on my website.


The Castle Builder

A co-worker and fellow artist, Adam Ogilvie, turned me on to this terrific 5-minute video in December. Entitled "Bishop's Castle," it 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 drop out 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. Then, he only intended to build a stone cabin. 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 artistic heroism. Bishop works for the "glory of God" and for himself, and he characterizes his efforts as those of an honorable "peon." His astonishing creation is a "one-man project, donation box basis." The artist is justifiably proud of his remarkable accomplishment. The castle is not a funded public art project, yet it is far more impressive than Christo's Central Park "Gates" or Eliasson's "Waterfalls."

The castle 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, but 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, this rugged individualist act is endearing but, as the video advances, a darker side of Bishop is revealed. He rants about our nation's eroding morals and civil liberties. Although his convictions are not entirely without merit, his attacks on big government seem increasingly irrational. Near the video's end, he yells 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


Christie said...

I've enjoyed my visit to this blog and will be back!

Michael McDevitt said...

Hey hey, welcome aboard.

That's great.

"I'm the new world order!"

It's interesting to consider what drives the 'vanity castle' builder. At what point does there cease to be a difference between art and "I do as I god damn well please?" Also, his bit about immortality sounds eerily like many of the painters and artists that I know. Perhaps there is a little Ozymandias in us all.

I saw a TV show describing another similar builder, except this guy built his empire underground. I'll see if I can't track it down.

BTW, my word verification is "Baconia," which is both the name of the delicious castle I plan to build and the rich, meaty-scented fiefdom I plan to establish. Our travel ads will simply say "Mmmm... Baconia."