I spent the weekend in and near Philadelphia, a city I have always enjoyed visiting*. It has much to recommend it—a great museum, proximity to the Barnes Foundation (soon to be housed within its own city limits, a fraught topic I’d rather not get in to at this point in time), lots of history, architectural breadth, a friendly (it’s all relative of course) community of art galleries, Louie Kahn’s former offices (I’ve made the pilgrimage) and the best, bar none, gelato in all the world at Capogiro’s. (BTW, the research was exhaustive, international in scope and personally supervised. I’m sorry but nothing in Italy has excelled this exceptional New World variant.)
The highlight of this trip, expertly choreographed by friend and artist Pam Farrell, was seeing a show of work by Bill Walton at Fleisher/Ollman Gallery. When I walked in to the exhibit, the first thing that came to mind was Richard Tuttle’s stripped and elemental sensibilities. But while Walton and Tuttle may be drinking from the same stream, Walton’s work does not feel derivative or like second hand Tuttles. Walton’s poetic center is defined and unique, and these simplified forms seem to emerge from a place of deep connection, authenticity and affection. There is a primal and personal sense of the sacred about these assemblages that made me want to be silent when I was in the exhibit. Silent and a bit teary.
At first I thought my response was because Walton, a well known artist in the Philadelphia area, had just passed away last year. But these pieces are more than a momento mori. Each one feels like its own private universe, with its own peculiar set of laws and gravitations.They are masterful and yet understated, small in stature but large in their power of presence.
A small monograph of Walton’s work is available for sale at the gallery. It was published prior to the show, in 2006, in conjunction with the Lois Fernley Award. In an essay in the monograph written by Richard Torchia, the following story about Walton is told:
When asked about his refusal to assign his works to particular years, he explains that it is not a strategy to mystify but, rather, a form of honesty. it comes from a reluctance to recognize any work of his as ever being one hundred percent complete, along with a desire “to let things sit for a while and vintage a bit.” It is not that works once resolved remain “in progress” but that the are never not “in process.”
That kind of candor is artist speak I can resonate with. His tone is unpretentious, thoughtful, humble. I would have loved to have known him.
* Previous postings on art in Philadelphia: