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Bill Whipple

New Abstractions

Bill Whipple’s new sculptures, made primarily from discarded wood and found objects, suggest their own combinations of shape and texture.

Bill Whipple. Arch, 2016. Wood and found objects. 23 x 24 x 5 inches.
  • July 8 - August 8, 2019
  • Opening: Monday, July 8

Opening: 2nd Thursday, July 11, 6:00 — 8:00 pm
Closing: 1st Thursday, August 1, 6:00 — 8:00 pm

Spontaneous and abstract, Bill Whipple’s latest body of work is a departure from the meticulous viewer-activated, message-driven constructions that characterized his studio practice for the past 40 years.

My show needs no abstruse artsplanation, so you can skip this text and simply go take a look. It’s just abstract sculpture. Inclusion of the word “just” here definitely isn’t meant to discount the art, but rather is a way of saying complicated ideas shouldn’t hinder your viewing experience.

A while ago, the work I had been making for most of my career began to feel restrictive, and sometimes even tedious. So, I set aside fastidious jigsaw cutting, mechanical problems, and sociopolitical messaging, all elements that made for overly deliberate creative ways and means, and started messing around with an array of fairly worthless found objects. The objects led readily to these abstract sculptures, which are free of the rules I had previously developed.

Part of my new, more unstructured process has been to let the materials do a lot of the work and suggest particular sculptural designs. A modest castoff piece of wood might be my initial inspiration or, at other times, an object’s inherent attractiveness will serve as a starting point… but I might alter it and make it less pretty so it won’t divert attention from its conjoined mates. And with this relaxed approach, mistakes are no problem – flaws can usually be disguised as intentional, or even be transformed into something positive. In the end though, a degree of control does become necessary to unify the sculpture’s disparate parts, giving the whole some sort of order that conveys balance, stability, movement, and/or tension. In other words, I think there is an underlying formality to the work, and yes, even new rules, my own standards, creeping in again.

Although I consider the sculptures to be essentially abstract, there are sub-themes in the series that have inevitably crossed my mind. Most obvious are recycling, trees and wood, plus the use of wood (how it’s milled, machined, shaped, and the labor that goes into some of its products). The discarded wood I use in my studio has a history: tree to mill, to construction site, to refuse pile, and now to a sculpture. I like to think that I’m rescuing it from the forces of entropy, giving it a renewed purpose and appreciation.

It does also occur to me that the sculptures may not last forever, given all the unsold art out there (see reasonable price list), and that the resurrected wood could in time recycle back to a big green dumpster.

Bill Whipple, 2019

About the Artist

Bill Whipple arrived in Seattle in the fall of 1967. He had just transferred to the University of Washington’s School of Art from Colorado College to study painting. Before that, life was centered in his hometown of Grafton, outside of Worcester, Massachusetts. After earning a BFA in 1970, he began exhibiting his studio work regionally, with solo shows at And/Or, Traver/Sutton (now Traver Gallery), Rosco Louie, Esther Claypool, the King County Arts Commission, and Room 104. Around the same time, he took an art installation job at the Henry Art Gallery and then began working with Rolon Garner at the Seattle Art Museum, the Frye, and a number of other venues. In 1977, Whipple helped start the art services company, Artech, and later served as the City of Seattle’s preparator and then 4Culture’s preparator for more than 19 years.

His work has been included in lauded shows at the Museum of Northwest Art, CoCA, Bellevue Arts Museum, the Henry, and the Seattle Art Museum. Commissions encompass site-specific public art for One Reel/Bumbershoot, the City of Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture, 4Culture, ArtsWA, and Metro’s Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel project, plus several private developments.