While teaching at UC Santa Barbara, Elliott Evans, a colleague of William Dole’s, passed along half a collection of handmade Japanese paper from the 1870’s (the other half went to the Smithsonian). Borrowing a technique from his years of working in watercolor, Dole mounted the delicate paper on gessoed board so it could hold a wet medium without warping. Early compositions tended to closely resemble the landscapes that inspired them, but realizing that, “Making something that looks like something else can get awfully cute,” Dole took his work in a more abstract direction.
In this selection of watercolors and collages the focus is on the decades after Dole’s two year sabbatical in Florence, where an antique store find of a large folio of old marbled papers, letters, maps, and type forms became the foundation for his best regarded collage work. In the 1957 ink drawing, “Via dello Studio,” the strong compositional forms of the rain gutters and open shutters on a crooked Florentine street can be seen as underpinning and inspiring the abstract forms that would follow.
A first exposure to Dole’s art can be both confounding and seductive. The works are mostly diminutive, pulling the eye closer for an inspection on an antiquarian letterform or a translucent wash of cadmium red. For Dole, these elegant bits of type teased and cropped from their original intent function as a fourth primary color or other element of form, bringing in the language parts of the brain and challenging them with a wholly aesthetic task. The overall compositions evoke something more modern and abstract, comparable to a Hans Hoffman or Richard Diebenkorn. The collage “Near Algeria” (1965) brings to mind the view of patchworks of Italian farms as seen from a train window. On his return to the UC Santa Barbara art department, Dole traded his Tuscan views for those of an administrator’s desk. Much to his credit, the inspiration continued with the landscape of his office and the creation of his “Memo” series, from which the 1958 collage “Memo V” is on view.
Before attending UC Berkeley for his graduate degree, Dole also had the option of attending Harvard’s School of Architecture, based on his study with László Moholy-Nagy. This interest in architecture can be seen in later works on view, such as “Proxy” and “Citadel” (1975 and 1978), both of which are reminiscent of building façades and the city. But Dole’s compositions are much richer and reach farther back than Constructivism. By selecting papers for collage that were made before 1850 (when cheap wood pulp papers were first developed and used), Dole’s compositions point to an age before mechanical reproduction.
Published courtesy of ArtSceneCal ©2010