Plied meanings |  Huston Paschal

William Noland disciplines building materials—virgin and experienced—and found architectural objects, engineering them into sculptures with a neat geometry. The pieces, which back up to the wall and project out into the room, trade on substance and transparency. Their essential openness invites the viewer’s eye to move through them just as light does. Even the rectangles of solid color, sheets of translucent Plexiglas, cast shadows tinting the ambient air. While the overall design adheres to rectilinearity, Noland welcomes enlivening detail, leaving visible the adornments the salvaged fragments come with—“found drawing” (carpenter’s notations or graffiti), weathered and painted surfaces, and hardware like clips, bolts, and washers.

Though the work includes metals and plastic, wood determines its primary—and complex—character. Different woods give Noland variety in texture and color, nuances he exploits in shaping and shading these lapped planes. And while other sculptors working in wood are often lured by Romantic implications of cyclical growth and decay, Noland looks beyond the resource to its use. It is as if, by focusing on wood’s structural qualities, he poses organic process in terms of the built environment, its deterioration and replacement. The works look as if they have been left in mid-construction, but they do not feel unfinished. Noland adds and subtracts with a mathematician’s rigor and a clear understanding of the force of empty space until he painstakingly arrives at just the right density. The form that defines these constructions, an abstract evocation of a window, plays a key role as a two-way metaphor. The casement functions as an opening—unlatching possibilities—and as a framing device—furnishing an outline for ordering response. Plied meanings unfold from these layered arrangements.

Catalogue essay by Huston Paschal
Associate Curator of Modern Art
North Carolina Museum of Art
© 1993