Bill Walton

Larry Becker Contemporary Art

A contradictory relationship to a Minimalist esthetic creates both visual tension and much that is poetically demanding in Bill Walton’s new work. In an exhibition entitled “Letters, Memos,” 13 pieces were divided into two rooms, each offering a different perspective on installation art, and a variation on ways of recording and communicating fragments of experience. The viewer’s response to the objects, apparently simple geometric forms, was partly determined by the physical aspects of the installation. Individually, the piece tracked the relationship between memory and experience; collectively, these would-be-mute forms offered themselves as an accumulation of the hard remains of feelings once felt. Most of the pieces were small, recalling standard 8 1/2-by-11 inch paper, physical representations of the letters and memos referred to in the title of the exhibition.

The objects were made of wood, iron, and copper treated with graphite, oil paint, or brass leaf. Their dense physicality suggested a compression of feeling born of work and time. It was Walton’s attention to the surface of these materials, the subtle presence of the artist’s touch, that first broke their silence. In the front room of the gallery, two of the pieces hung on the wall; seven more were placed on the floor, making them seem even smaller but enhancing their relationship to each other. One looked down on them as if they were a part of nature, a field of blocks and bars, considered and yet random in their arrangement. Configured in stacks or acting as weights, the simplicity of these forms belied their capacity to resonate beyond themselves. Their presence brought out the rich texture of the old wooden boards; the metal heat vent in the floor became as integral a part of the installation as the objects themselves.

In the rear gallery space, the four remaining pieces represented an internal alternative to the rambling landscape created by the works displayed in the frontroom. Here, again, two of the pieces were hung on the walls, like short lines drawn, one horizontal and one vertical, an architectural shorthand for shelf and window that transformed the gallery space into a room of the mind. A sense of possibility was born out of emptiness, as if it were Thoreau’s room. An empty small iron-and-copper table for one stood on the floor. Near it, a long weight of wood covered with graphite held down a small stack of iron “memos” as they leaned against the wall. The severity of the autonomous object was modulated through absence; pure presence had grown metaphorical wings.

Eileen Neff