Against the grain

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In his prints and paint­ings Harold Joe Wal­drum (1934-2003) was true to the sub­jects he ren­dered, cap­tur­ing de­tails of New Mex­ico’s Span­ish mis­sions and moradas with high con­trasts, bold hues, and a vi­brant out­lin­ing. Wal­drum was a de­mand­ing artist who ex­per­i­mented with color re­la­tion­ships, and he was a larger-than-life fig­ure who had some­times-con­tentious re­la­tion­ships with gal­leries. On Fri­day, June 23, Ger­ald Peters Gallery, which for­merly rep­re­sented Wal­drum, brings his works home for an es­tate show of paint­ings, aquatint etch­ings, draw­ings, and more. On the cover is the artist’s ac­quatint etch­ing Las som­bras ha­cia el este

del ves­tu­ario de la igle­sia de santo Tomás Após­tol de Ojo Sarco. At right is his 1993 linocut El con­tra­fuerte grande per­dido de la capilla de Chacón. Images © 2017 Es­tate of Harold Joe Wal­drum; courtesy Ger­ald Peters Gallery.

Some artists teach us to see by go­ing against the grain. Harold Joe Wal­drum (1934-2003) was one of those artists. In his paint­ings and prints, adobe build­ings can ap­pear blood red, golden yel­low, or a soft glow­ing pink, par­tially ob­scured by shad­ows that take on almost cor­po­real forms. In those shad­ows, Wal­drum used touches of green, red, blue, and other col­ors to out­line and ac­cen­tu­ate shapes, invit­ing the viewer to look harder and see more. The artist saw col­ors and shapes that were re­ally there in the world around him, as ev­i­denced by hun­dreds of Po­laroid pho­to­graphs he shot, and he brought those forms into his work with an in­ten­sity that, like his life, was height­ened by sharp con­trasts of dark­ness and light.

“This looks like nor­mal New Mex­ico stuff,” Wal­drum’s friend and for­mer col­lab­o­ra­tor, mas­ter printer Michael Costello, said of the artist’s work. “There’s a whole genre of it. But no­body did it quite like Joe did. No­body gets close. Peo­ple try, but they don’t see it the same way, I guess. It ap­pears fairly sim­ple, but it’s just not.” A small-scale ret­ro­spec­tive of two-di­men­sional works by Wal­drum opens on Fri­day, June 23, at Ger­ald Peters Gallery. The oc­ca­sion marks a home­com­ing of sorts for the artist, whom the gallery once rep­re­sented. “It was a nice op­por­tu­nity to have some­one who had shown here while they were ac­tive and liv­ing come full cir­cle,” said gallery di­rec­tor Evan Feld­man. The show, which in­cludes about 25 of Wal­drum’s works, was drawn from more than 600 pieces from the por­tion of the artist’s es­tate that went to his chil­dren Christo­pher and Ruanna Wal­drum. The ex­hibit in­cludes acrylic paint­ings, aquatint etch­ings, draw­ings, linocuts, and lith­o­graphs.

Wal­drum, ac­cord­ing to those who knew him, was a larger-than-life fig­ure and an icon­o­clast in his work, al­though he didn’t al­ways ap­pear that way. He was an artist who re­moved his per­son from the art world but never his art, pre­fer­ring to live a rus­tic life­style off the grid. He could be a chal­leng­ing fig­ure be­cause,

ac­cord­ing to Costello, he al­ways stuck to his guns. It was an at­ti­tude that some­times got him into a fix. “At some point he lived out in the sticks near Pe­cos some­where,” Costello said. “He got into trou­ble be­cause he was the only An­glo there, in kind of a dif­fi­cult town. A lot of these towns back then, and even now if you get way out there, peo­ple have their own way. They don’t like out­siders. Joe didn’t care. It was cheap out there, and he liked liv­ing that way. He got on the wrong side of peo­ple that were drug deal­ers and heroin ad­dicts, and they wanted to run him out of town. They burned his house down while he was still in­side it. He shot one of them be­cause they were try­ing to kill him. That’s the type of stuff that would hap­pen to him, be­cause he would never back down.”

While the fire makes for a good story, it hints at the kind of mythic legacy that Wal­drum left be­hind — a legacy that seems, at least in part, to have been in­ten­tion­ally cul­ti­vated. He left last­ing im­pres­sions not only in his marks on pa­per, but also in the hearts and minds of his ac­quain­tances. He had a pen­chant for painting in the nude, for in­stance, and ti­tled one au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal mono­graph Ando en Cueros (I Walk

Stark-Naked).

Wal­drum was born in Savoy, Texas, and ar­rived in New Mex­ico in the early 1970s af­ter a ca­reer as a mu­sic teacher. He spent a brief pe­riod in New York, where he was in­flu­enced by Ab­stract Ex­pres­sion­ism, and then re­turned to New Mex­ico in the mid-’70s, devel­op­ing a sig­na­ture style that strad­dled rep­re­sen­ta­tion and ab­strac­tion, fo­cus­ing on New Mex­ico’s his­toric Span­ish mis­sions and moradas as his pri­mary sub­jects. He was also an ad­vo­cate for their preser­va­tion. “I didn’t work with Joe for too, too many years,” Costello said. “He used to work in Al­bu­querque a lot, but the printer he was work­ing with, Robert Blan­chard, re­tired from print­mak­ing. I had a stu­dio down­town, and he came in to check me out, to see if I was go­ing to be able to do what he wanted me to do. All the works we were do­ing were multi-plate, aquatint etch­ings.”

Wal­drum and Costello worked on pro­gres­sive prints in which each color is printed sep­a­rately on cop­per plates in a se­ries of runs through the press. “With these etch­ings, you print them one af­ter the other,” Costello said. “It’s all wet into wet. We would build up dif­fer­ent lay­ers, even though in the fi­nal print, they’d get hid­den. But it builds up dif­fer­ent den­sity.” Though the shad­ows of Wal­drum’s com­po­si­tions read at first as solid black or some other dark tone, one can see faint lines des­ig­nat­ing dif­fer­ent ar­chi­tec­tural fea­tures — but you have to re­ally look, as though ac­tu­ally peer­ing into three-di­men­sional space, un­til a form like a win­dow, per­haps, or a jut­ting but­tress, sug­gests it­self. “He knew ex­actly what color he try­ing to get to, and he would sit there and di­rect us like he was con­duct­ing his band . ... It was a dif­fer­ent type of ab­strac­tion. He saw the world in an ab­stract way and was very pre­cise in go­ing af­ter what he wanted.”

“He ex­per­i­mented with color all the time,” said friend and fel­low artist Del­mas Howe. “He was a real pre­ci­sion­ist. He de­manded the very best from him­self and oth­ers.” This per­fec­tion­ism got un­der some peo­ple’s skin, and it seems, at times, that Wal­drum took some plea­sure in push­ing peo­ple’s but­tons. “He would do things that were strange, like an edi­tion of 63,” Costello said. “Not 50. Not 65. An edi­tion of 63. Then he would do an edi­tion of 54 or 72. Then he would make these ti­tles in Span­ish, and the ti­tles would be like three sen­tences long. He was just do­ing it to mess with you and be­cause it both­ered peo­ple.” But Wal­drum al­ways knew ex­actly what he wanted in terms of color. He and Costello would work at a piece un­til the hues in the prints matched ex­actly what the artist had in his mind’s eye. “For a pro­fes­sional print­maker, that’s what you want in an artist. If you have an artist who knows what they want, then you’ll get there. So for me, that was re­ally kind of won­der­ful.”

Through­out his ca­reer, Wal­drum tended to keep his dis­tance from Santa Fe, re­mov­ing him­self to lo­ca­tions south of Al­bu­querque. “He used to tell me it was so he could lob bombs at Santa Fe,” Costello said. In town, Wal­drum was rep­re­sented by a num­ber of dif­fer­ent gal­leries at var­i­ous points in his ca­reer: Zaplin Lam­pert, Copeland-Ruther­ford, and Ger­ald Peters, whose gallery he once pulled all his work from. “I think they re­quested he change some­thing in one of his paint­ings to make it more sal­able, and he re­moved him­self from the gallery at that time,” said Howe. “He did re­treat. He moved to a ranch near So­corro. It was a re­ally neat lit­tle ranch.” In the late 1990s he made the move from the se­cluded moun­tain ranch to Truth or Con­se­quences, a town with a small but ac­tive and vi­brant arts com­mu­nity. In T or C, he opened a new gallery space, Río Bravo Fine Arts, and the space re­mains un­der the man­age­ment of a for­mer as­sis­tant, Ed­uardo Alicea Moreno. “Joe put out an ad on the in­ter­net for an as­sis­tant, and Ed­uardo, who lived in Puerto Rico at the time, an­swered the ad,” Howe said. “He was a very good as­sis­tant to Joe — and Joe was not easy to deal with. But Ed­uardo stuck with him. Joe re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated that.” The T or C gallery’s first show was of Howe’s

Sta­tions: A Gay Pas­sion, a ho­mo­erotic rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Sta­tions of the Cross. “The gallery wasn’t quite fin­ished,” Howe said. “We didn’t have elec­tric­ity and lights in­stalled yet, and I thought it would be great to light can­dles, and every­one could sit around, and it would be a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence. How­ever, there was a man whose car broke down, and he had to wait for parts. This man was an elec­tri­cian. We called him an an­gel be­cause he showed up one day, put in all the lights, and then kind of dis­ap­peared.”

Wal­drum was ded­i­cated to stu­dio work, even to­ward the end of his life. “By the time he was com­ing up here to Santa Fe, he wasn’t very well,” said Costello. “He trav­eled with an oxy­gen tank. He’d drive up in a Cadil­lac and hang out all day. Some­times he had to lie on the floor to keep go­ing.”

“It was very un­for­tu­nate that he died when he did,” Howe said. “He would have been quite a lo­cal char­ac­ter. We buried him in a lit­tle ceme­tery he found and loved in Colum­bus, right near the Mex­i­can bor­der. There are lit­tle hills nearby and a for­est of cac­tus. He wanted us all to come down on a bus with some­one on the roof with a ban­ner — sim­i­lar to the Aus­tralian film Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. We didn’t quite ac­com­plish that.”

Harold Joe Wal­drum: Sabado de Glo­ria en Las Tram­pas, aquatint etch­ing; op­po­site page, Adum­bra­cion, 1982, acrylic on linen; all images © 2017 Es­tate of Harold Joe Wal­drum, courtesy Ger­ald Peters Gallery

La som­bra de la ven­tana ha­cia el oeste de la capilla de San An­to­nio de Cha­con, 1998, aquatint etch­ing; above right, Church, New Mex­ico, Po­laroid

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