PRINT August 1962

William Waldron

FROM THE CATALOG of the Waldren exhibition at the Biosca Gallery of Madrid in October 1962.

The monochrome white reliefs by the American artist William Waldren, formed of a mixture of polyester, sand, and plaster, reveal the unique capacity of the visual image to convey a poetry of silences.

Ordinarily we tend to think of silence as no more than an absence of sound, a void, a gulf of emptiness, failing to perceive that silence is a domain as varied as the things of this world. How different, how separate and distinct and particular are the silences of dreams, of sorrow, of embraced lovers, of thought, of empty rooms, of death, of bursting fruit, of ants tracking the sand, of prisons, of flames, of solitary wastes and mountains and canyons and clouds and waves and the deep of the sea, of sunlight, fogs, winds, starlit nights and break of day.

The art of William Waldren explores this poetry of silences. Waldren makes us aware, as perhaps never before, that we apprehend silence as a palpable entity, as something we feel and see. He has created a rhetoric of silences peculiarly appropriate to his view of the human condition and to his sensibility and resources as an artist.

Silence for Waldren is white, a granular bone white. For him, “White has voice . . . as silence has voice.” The voice of white, the voice of silence are embodied by him in rolling wave shapes, in hollows, craters, undulations, crevices, basins, cavities, stringed lines, punctures, apertures, expanses flat as tableland.

Waldren’s metaphors of silence change with shifting play of tight on masses and indentations, with changes in the definition of sculpted shapes and cave-like openings as the observer moves from side to side. The off-whites in these reliefs may conjure echoes of steps in the snow, or evoke hints of things beneath the integuments of shapes.

The omission of color and its sensuous diversions in the Waldren reliefs is deliberate. Waldren discloses many unsuspected properties of white. In his work the simplicity and lightness of white suggest invisible presences. White for him has become a battery of tonal values for orchestration, now sonorous, then delicately nuanced, now cool and reserved, and again, tense and ominous.

At first glance the works in this exhibition may strike the viewer as purely abstract, a presentation of forms and images without resemblance to the kinds of objects we encounter in everyday life. Once the spectator has accustomed himself to the novelty of the reliefs and has become involved with them he discovers the artist’s intense rapport with nature.

The artist has made no effort to duplicate the appearance of things. Instead he has created forms and spaces nature might have conceived if it had been endowed with human sensibility. As a consequence, the reliefs are at once part and parcel of the natural world and visible things freighted with human overtones.

A tensed calm pervades the silences of the Waldren reliefs. For Waldren, “Serenity is every bit an emotional state as passion.” Waldren masks the hidden complexities of silence under the calm of his surfaces. Thus his works suggest there is more going on than meets the eye.

This more-going-on-than-meets-the-eye he calls “moments of arrestation”—those moments when everything hangs in the balance, heightened interludes when a person experiences a transcendence of local time and space, moments in which inner vision and external forms appear as one and the same.

Works of art that are composed of solid matter—paintings and sculpture, drawings and prints—exist simultaneously in the dimensional world of hard and fast things and in the poetic realm of image and metaphor. This duality usually is concealed in the general run of visible works of art. The physical substance of most pictures and sculptures is subordinate to some illusory image, be that image abstract or a facsimile of a familiar object. It is one of the distinctions of the Waldren reliefs that this duality is not evaded but rather is recognized and made welcome by the artist. The matter constituting the reliefs is presented for what it is—a granular off-white substance, rough and resistant to the touch, a dense mass congealed in certain forms. As such, the reliefs are perceived as entities independent of man with a life of their own. The spectator cannot help react to their thingness, to their existence apart from their significance as images.

For Waldren, the high meaning of his art proceeds from the application of matter to a surface supported by an armature of wire mesh. By means of the application process he fuses interior states of being with exterior substance—the stuff of thought and feeling indivisible with the stuff of physical matter.

Waldren does not think of himself as the initiator of this approach to the visual image. Rather he thinks of his work as following in the wake of certain Rembrandt portraits, of certain works by Goya and by Van Gogh, for it was in the works of these artists that he first became aware of the duality of matter in the visual image, a duality they resolved into new dimensions of esthetic experience.

Being a genuinely creative artist in his own right, Waldren has phrased this duality in visible works of expression in new ways—the compelling poetry of silences on view in this exhibition.

Jules Langsner