Bringing venerable artists such as Jonas Mekas and Alison Knowles to a younger audience has become something of a modus operandi for the Lower East Side gallery James Fuentes. Continuing in this vein, Fuentes recently presented an arresting exhibition of sculpture by Bill Walton (1931–2010), concurrent with a second Walton show at JTT, a new gallery in the same neighborhood.
The artist gained acclaim in Philadelphia, where he lived and worked, but was little known outside of the area. A printmaker by trade, he began making sculptures in 1964. Though he was working during the height of Minimalism and, like artists of that movement, used industrial materials-steel, copper, lead, concrete, etc.-he didn’t subscribe to their matter-of-fact approach or large scale. Instead, he coaxed poetry out of intimate combinations of rough-hewn objects.
As seen in these two shows, Walton’s sculptures gently meld opposites-determined and elusive, rugged and delicate, static and mercurial. His hand-size wall assemblages and slightly larger floor works often involve paired objects. Walton wanted his sculptures to be in constant evolution, and thus never dated them. The consistency of that evolution was deftly captured by JTT’s Jasmine Tsou, who curated both exhibitions and created resonances between them.
The wall-hung Complex Roads, shown at JTT, features a rectangle of thin lead folded once over a silver wire, which peeks out from the side and top. Meanwhile, Complex Roads (wood/lead), at Fuentes, consists of two small sections of tree branches, one dark brown (as if burnt) and the other light, that intertwine at the top. A lead band softly wraps around the bottom of the dark wood and then stiffly extends on the wall in a straight line, at once echoing and contrasting the lyricism of the branches’ embrace. The simple grace of these works belies the complexity of the artist’s decision-making and craftsmanship. The materials used in Concrete/Tin, at JTT, a tin can and a concrete cast of a can sitting on a chunk of wood against the wall, appeared again at Fuentes in Spring Crate. There, a gray wooden box on the floor held eight cans-four tin, four concrete. The density of the concrete and lightness of the tin come together in an engaging interplay of weight, texture and form.
Unexpected moments gratify, such as Walton’s ingenious use of baking powder as a pigment or of a paper towel as a sculptural element. The artist’s 20 works in these shows are strikingly of the moment, and Tsou plans to show more of his oeuvre soon. Whatever that may bring, this introduction revealed Walton’s ability to achieve profound elegance with the most unlikely materials.
Photo: Bill Walton: Complex Roads, n.d., lead, silver, 6¼ by 4¼ inches; at JTT.