Selections from the Career of William Aubrey Walmsley.
Text is drawn from “The Abridged Walmsley: Selections from the Career of William Aubrey Walmsley.” Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts, 1999.
In 2002, the Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts, in recognition of the splendid donation of artworks by Bill and his beloved wife Dorothy, named a Gallery in his honor. Although we know Professor Walmsley as a much-honored printmaker, he actually began as a painter only to re-invent his career in 1962 when he founded the print studio at Florida State University; he retired from the University in 1989 as an Emeritus Professor.
From Florida, where he was awarded an Arts Council Fellowship in 1980 for his lithographs, Professor Walmsley was recognized for excellence by the print world and honored in New Orleans in 2002 as a past President and Emeritus Printmaker of the Southern Graphics Council.
Still Life (1948), by William Walmsley
William Aubrey Walmsley was born October 9, 1923, in Tuscumbia, Alabama, although his family soon moved to Pueblo, Colorado, where he finished high school. His college career at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa was augmented by study abroad and in New York; he earned his BFA in 1951 and MA in 1953.
It is the “additional study” section of his vita which gives one the most insight into his spirit of adventure and shrewd appraisal of his educational opportunities. Bill Walmsley, child of the Depression Era in America, managed a continental education on the slender resources provided him by the GI Bill after the war, and then in New York by means of his own careful planning and hard work: for, as he said to his students, “you have to be the one that criticizes...get to the point you criticize yourself. And know what you know. That’s the reason I thought I needed to go to Paris and that’s the reason I thought I had to go to New York.”
Specter (1953-1954), by William Walmsley
Because we know Bill Walmsley primarily as a printmaker, we often forget he began his career as a painter: but a painter he was! Child of the Depression era in America, Bill Walmsley managed a continental education: he attended the famous Paris school where so many young Americans had trained, the Académie Julian (1949-50), studying sculpture with Gimond and Yencesse and painting with Cavailles. He also sought art training at the Art Students League in New York (1951-52).
The Mole (1957), by William Walmsley
After he completed his degrees at the University of Alabama on the slender resources provided him by the GI Bill after the war (and with intervening residencies in Paris and New York), he chose to do post-graduate work at the University of Kentucky (1960).
In this timeframe, teaching appointments included Howard College in Birmingham, Alabama (1953-56), and Murray State College in Murray, Kentucky (1956-1962), before he accepted a position at Florida State University; he was still painting and not yet making the signature lithographs that came to characterize his print series “Ding Dong Daddy.” Even so, he was working in the medium of prints as this woodcut demonstrates.
Bad Drawing Series (1963), by William Walmsley
Since Professor Walmsley actually began as a painter, one of his favorite observations is that “litho is a painter’s medium.” It is, of course, technically demanding—skills that he essentially taught himself. Art Department Head Gulnar Bosch challenged him to create a litho studio from the ground up. Drafted into becoming the lithography instructor at Florida State University (his only training a one-year graduate course years earlier), he said “I did all right: being the student as well as the teacher, I didn’t flunk out.”
Before Florida State University, he had already taught a total of nine academic seasons—everything from core courses to art history at Howard College in Birmingham, Alabama (1953-56), and at Murray State College in Murray, Kentucky (1956-1962). In the Fall of 1962, he and his wife Dorothy and daughter Mary made Tallahassee their new home. From then until his retirement in 1989, William Aubrey Walmsley quietly built his national reputation—earning recognition for his prints all over the country.
Bad Painting Series (1963), by William Walmsley
Like most artists, Bill Walmsley worked in different media throughout his career. He had a “Bad Drawing” series and a “Bad Painting” series, such as this wonderfully exuberant painting from 1964.
Walmsley has an artist’s skepticism and an artist’s strength regarding critical opinion: “You always get critics...I do think they are good, but they...don’t always know everything. You have to think for yourself. They don’t like to be told they don’t know everything. You don’t know everything. I don’t know everything...and I judge my own faults or badness or goodness. I don’t let them do it for me.” For this philosophical position, he had had empirical evidence: "I’ve done well in the print world. Shows, prizes---but I could get the same print that I’d won an award on in one show thrown out at another show. No two critics, no two jurors are the same. So you learn that you have to think for yourself when you are a printmaker, or a painter....Back when I was an Abstract Expressionist painter, in the fifties, I remember a lot of shows where the Abstract Expressionist juror or director would throw out all the realism, and, of course, a lot of realist painters back then were good. Hopper was upset, and he was probably one of the strongest landscape painters of this century. Hopper was a damn good painter, a lot better than a lot of those Abstract Expressionist late-comers, or whatever you want to call them. I see him with the other Americans---they just paint---Hopper is beyond painting. But there are good paintings on both sides, so I criticize [students’] paintings from several different view points. I don’t give ’em one. And the student has to think it through, again. He has to develop it, himself.”
Bill had seen England, France and parts of Germany while he served in the Army from early in 1943 until December of 1945, spending two years of that time stationed in Europe. After the war, what he felt was missing from his college experience in the States, he went deliberately back to Europe to find. He attended the famous Paris school where so many young Americans had trained, the Académie Julian (1949-50), studying sculpture with Gimond and Yencesse and painting with Cavailles. He next sought art training at the equally well-known Art Students League in New York (from December 1951 to May 1952). After he completed his degrees at Alabama and his intervening residencies in these two art capitals—Paris and New York—he returned to France in the Summer of 1955, to print lithos at the atelier of Edmond and Jacques Désjobert. Walmsley chose to do post-graduate work at the University of Kentucky (Summer 1960), and spent some time at Tamarind Lithography Workshop (Summer 1969), printing again at Curwen Studio in London (Spring 1974), and at the Frans Masereel Center maintained by the Ministry of the Flemish Community in Belgium (1987). A Southern artist, he has always spoken ‘art’ with an international accent.
Ding Dong Daddy #9 Loven (1967), by William Walmsley
His introduction to lithography at Florida State University coincided with an explosion of interest in the graphic arts. Lines of hierarchy were distinct, however, with some artists—even a few Walmsley met in his new university position—reluctant to consider printmaking, specifically lithography, worthwhile. “There were tons of bad lithos, and tons of bad paintings. There was bad everything. You can be against bad artists,” Walmsley noted in defense of lithography, “but not against mediums.” Open-minded on the topic, he looked at the crippled press Dr. Bosch was showing him in the Fall of 1962, realized there were no stones, no carborundums, no acids or other chemicals, no gum arabic, and no inks. So while he was mulling over her proposal, he asked her where the rest of the equipment was, and still laughs when he remembers her answer: “What equipment?”
Ding Dong Daddy #11 Never Never Never Never (1967), by William Walmsley
Over the next few years, Walmsley put together a working atelier for his students and himself. He worked first in black and white in 1963. The Artist, who states that he earned his education in “the Age of College Cubism,” had gone out on his own and had formed a strong attraction to sumi-e painting (“direct on the canvas, no preparatory anything”); at the same time, he recognized the somewhat antithetical process of lithography as an arena of “controlled spontaneity.” Even so, his lithography work shared the gestural sensibility of the Eastern art form. Because artists do not work in a strictly linear fashion, he was still painting while he was simultaneously engaged in printing the first of the Bad Drawing Series.
Ding Dong Daddy #12 Oh! Oh? Me (1968), by William Walmsley
In 1964 Walmsley visited paper companies and ink companies in New York on a modest research grant, and started experimenting with Japanese rice papers; also at about that time, he perfected the gossamer web of tusche washes that have become his trademark. His Bad Painting Series was ending when he moved from painting to printmaking, but the Bad Drawing Series and a new series title, Ding Dong Daddy, coalesced briefly in a single work on a single litho stone. Although he had once printed a work which Kentucky department chairman Richard Freeman blithely called “Ding Dong Daddy,” he had not launched into the series until after he arrived at Florida State. “D.D.D.”— or “Ding Dong Daddy” emerged victorious in one of his most successful, award-winning early color works, Walmsley Is a Hamburger (1965).
Ding Dong Daddy New Improved (1970), by William Walmsley
Sometime around 1968, a chance discussion with a student about fluorescent color resulted in the first can of ink being ordered for the print lab. It soon became apparent that using even one fluorescent color would overpower all the traditional inks in any given print, and, consequently, Walmsley ordered more colors as his imagery moved from the B&W expressionistic works and his sumi-e gesturalism to a first series of fluorescent stamps with zoological forms, and then to a series of maps at the beginning of the seventies. His successive color applications on each print often meant a dozen or more runs through the press. Walmsley evaluated each color for its viability, to see if it was “color functional.” Someone once asked him how he could think of that many colors on each print, to which he responded with his usual aplomb, “one at a time.”
Ding Dong Daddy Shoe Shoe (1971), by William Walmsley
Professor Walmsley’s teaching views are firm. If you listen to him for very long, it is clear that the things he most admires are actually the philosophies he himself has followed. One of the greatest compliments he ever paid any teacher was to John Varley, a British watercolorist (1778-1842). About ten years ago, Bill began to collect watercolors and drawings in addition to prints. Discoursing on the skill of 18th and 19th century painters, he mentioned Varley. “Varley was a good artist—all his students were good painters. And all of them were different. You look at Cotman [John Sell Cotman, 1782-1842] and his students—they did everything just the way Cotman wanted them to, maybe they had to, but Varley?—he brought out the best in each of them. He directed them to whatever they did well.”
Ding Dong Daddy Shoe Shoe (1971), by William Walmsley
Among the many prints completed by Bill Walmsley, the Museum of Fine Arts also has working drawings for the litho stones and the multiple color runs through the press. The transparent drawings can be turned down to check registration during the printing since the printed image is always a reverse of the image on the stone.
Ding Dong Daddy Non-Dairy Creamers (1975), by William Walmsley
Clare Romano and John Ross chose to reproduce Non-Dairy Creamers in The Complete Screenprint and Lithograph, © 1989; this lithograph, Bill says, was intended to poke “ fun at the whole of homosapiens, homosapiens,” he emphasizes the middle syllable, “and at human sexuality.” Humor and satire are his tools. When he becomes pensive, he speaks of Bosnia and ethnic cleansing, “the folly of man,” remembering Goya’s horrific Disasters of War. “We are not just our little selves, that’s not it; we’re worse than the gods. Oh, no, we’re as bad as the gods. The Greek gods did everything....and the Romans learned it from the Greeks.” Later, he refers to the Inquisition and those who were destroyed by their own church. Bitter satire is familiar to Walmsley---from Goya to Daumier, and he notes the wretched excess of political strife in every gallows scene of Callot. He collects all these artists’ works because he admires their achievements and believes in what they believed. Like Rowlandson, whose work he also has in his collection, Walmsley has invested his own energy in social satire.
Ding Dong Daddy O Lives (1978), by William Walmsley
Alluding to Cezanne working away in artistic solitude in southern France, Bill has christened this southern capital “Tallahassee-en-Provence.” He knows it is possible to work hard and seriously, removed from the bustling American art centers of L.A., New York, Chicago. There are trade-offs, however. “Even Picasso would starve to death in Tallahassee,” was Walmsley’s wry assessment of the fact that his works, particularly Ding Dong Daddy Crap Art (1971) which had won seven national awards, were considered too risqué to be shown at any venue off campus. Critics and writers embrace his good-natured iconoclasm.
Ding Dong Daddy Root and Branches (1982), by William Walmsley
One of the great mysteries of Bill’s prints is that although he usually indicated the number in the print run-–and as hand-pulled prints, the editions were very small—he generally neglected to date prints.
Early in his career, dates are recorded, and late in his career when his former student and good friend Master Printer Wayne Kline printed for him, the dates re-appeared, but for most of Bill’s works in the MoFA Collection there is no visible date.
Self-Portrait (1983), by William Walmsley
Bill loved making art and he loved collecting it. To the Museum of Fine Arts, he left a tangible legacy of the works of other artists. The prints, paintings, and drawings he donated are in constant rotation as each new generation of students has the opportunity to study them —while his own lithographs remain lively observations of the human condition, as valid with each passing year as the day they were made.
Ding Dong Daddy Eye'm Still Thinking (1991), by William Walmsley
The Artist fielded a question about the record-breaking length of his Ding Dong Daddy series, mentioning that critics would sometimes penalize him for “doing that same old thing”–-even though the title was the only true constant, as he proceeded through figurative, zoomorphic, and even non-specific imageries. Eventually, he even introduced self-portraits in the Ding Dong Daddy series, after teaching and drawing in Florence, Italy, one semester when he was separated by the breadth of the Atlantic from his faithful litho press. His work of the past decade has most often been the psychedelic and humorously self-deprecating self-portrait, about which genre he takes the long and metaphorical look, avowing that no matter what the actual imagery, every work an artist does is, in the larger sense, a self-portrait.
Ding Dong Daddy Self-Portrait Art for Dummies (1997), by William Walmsley
Office doors all over academe carry assorted editorial cartoons, memorabilia, notes, notices, and the raucous mixture of things that strike the officeholder as astutely absurd or undeniably true or perversely clever. The doors themselves become like evolving broadsides published by the occupant. Bill Walmsley’s office door is no different. Bad painting is an art form is a favorite Walmsley door quotation. He explains it as---
what one person calls bad may not be bad to another person. It’s the end of the century. Art is all recycled, today—or a lot of it is. They’re calling bad art, bad art, whatever bad art is. I remember one of my old teachers telling me the Renaissance was the downfall of art. And another one told me how bad Van Gogh was, and a woman who had studied at the Art Students League in the twenties and thirties said the Franz Kline show was the worst she’d ever seen in her life. I saw a guy turn purple and pitch a fit over Rauschenberg’s goat [Monogram, 1959]: “They call that art?” and he turned to me and I said “Oh, I’d have to live with it awhile.”
He thinks a little further about that, and then he concludes the discussion, “I think like my statement up there on the door----‘Everything is art unless proven otherwise.’”
June 1999 essay for The Abridged Walmsley: Selections from the Career of William Aubrey Walmsley, Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts, 1999