Universally proclaimed as the father of art furniture, the late American designer Wendell Castle was an elegant creative force throughout his 60-year career. Castle never stopped generating exhilarating new forms and methods, exploring the possibilities for old and new materials, and producing astonishing pieces of one-off or limited edition furniture. Indeed, when he died from leukaemia on January 20 this year, at the age of 85, the professor and artist-in-residence at Rochester Institute of Technology was preparing a new body of work, and still working seven days a week in his New York studio. And in the wake of his death, now is the time for both loyal fans and those new to his oeuvre to look at his pieces with fresh eyes, as his collectability inevitably increases.
Castle is best known for his extraordinary organic pieces of furniture carved from laminated wood. And although a highly collectable and respected figure in his homeland, European audiences have been slower to appreciate the joyful energy and formal brilliance of his work. His capacious seating forms, sculptured doors and twisting library steps, his biomorphic tables and the many uncategorisable objects that are neither quite art nor furniture, but fulfil the purposes of both, are instantly recognisable to those familiar with his work.
However, Castle did not work solely with wood. Inspired by Italian design of the 1960s, he created a body of work in moulded plastic and latterly worked a great deal with bronze, as well as embracing the creative opportunities offered by digital methods of production. His work for galleries in New York (such as Friedman Benda, and R & Company) and London (including Carpenters Workshop Gallery) reflects different aspects of his multifaceted oeuvre, and is now on show there again (all prices on request). Carpenters Workshop Gallery co-founder Loïc Le Gaillard sums up Castle’s legacy: “He represents a whole generation. He was a visionary and the first to use fibreglass in the 1960s, inspiring Ron Arad, Zaha Hadid and many others. But most importantly, Wendell was a man of an extreme generosity and simplicity who never had the recognition he deserved in Europe.”