On Harold Joe Waldrum’s Aquatint Etchings

by Michael Costello
Hand Graphics
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Used with permission.

Harold Joe Waldrum has asked me to write a few words about the aquatint etchings we are producing at Hand Graphics. After five projects, it seems that I finally have enough perspective to do this.

I first met Waldrum at Hand Graphics in the mid eighties. I was working as a printer for Ron Adams, who owned Hand Graphics at that time. I was consistently amazed at the qualities and character of the artists who came into the shop. Ron Adams seemed to know most everybody, and everyone he knew seemed to be alive in some special way. Joe Waldrum, more than most, struck me as intense, serious, quirky, and vaguely dangerous.

We weren’t working on a project with Joe at the time, but after we were introduced I became curious and sought out his work. I was surprised to find that the work being produced was architectural, New Mexican, and devoid of the overt emotional expression then prevalent in Santa Fe contemporary Art. I did not seriously see the work at that time. I was young, and struggling to work as a printer and also as an artist, and I could not look at any artists who made recognizable images with New Mexican architecture. Time and experience have changed me, and shown me a simpler way to look at Joe’s work.

About 1995, Joe Waldrum came to see me at Hand Graphics. I had purchased the shop in 1987, and developed a different perspective. Joe Waldrum was an artist who made a lot of prints, he was coming to see me about taking on the task of producing his images; I was very pleased to see him come in the door. I began to look at the works from a technical angle, i.e. how we could make these things?

I noticed then that the work was deceptively simple, that it was fully saturated, and that it seemed to sell very well. I also began to notice that there wasn’t anything else around that looked like his work—with his vision. This was a bit of a puzzlement, but I didn’t think about that too much at the time (I was busy running a small business, after all, and we actually hadn’t started working together.)

It took about two years before we began to make prints together. During that time Joe wuld periodically stop by the shop, talk to me about printmaking, and assure me that he wanted to work with us. It seemed that we were carefully laying the groundwork for our collaboration, testing for shared attitude, and developing a personal repartee. It was like a very slow dance or seduction; by which I was gleaning information about Joe and his way of seeing and he was gathering knowledge about how I managed Hand Graphics. In the true nature of collaborative printmaking one must begin be developing a shared language.

We finally began our projects together, everything we had talked about came into focus. Aquatint etching is a complex and time-consuming method of producing what appear to be simple prints; but the fact is that we could not have achieved the luminosity and subtlety of surface by any other printmaking method. Joe knew this, and he would not compromise what he felt was the best method to achieve his vision.

He has spoken to me of a dream he had, in which multiple ribbon layers of light in the sky combined to create rich and complex color, and how this dream was the point at which the etchings started. He spoke about the edges of forms, and how important they were to complete the feeling of the piece. He spoke eloquently about light and shadow and I began to understand that the emotional restraint of the etchings did not mean that the prints were devoid of emotion, but that the emotion contained in them was condensed, refined and intensified through discipline and exasperatingly precise color balance.

I also learned that Joe Waldrum is not an artist who deviates from existing form and calls it abstract. He is an artist who sees light and shadow in an elemental way, captures it directly onto film, and then proceeds to make prints that are as realistic as possible. I was amazed (after we had completed three editions) to look at slides of the prints we had produced next to the slides he had taken of the actual buildings. It was very difficult for me to discern which was which (and I had made those prints).

Upon this realization it became very clear to me why there are no other images out there that have the same feelings as the etchings of Harold Joe Waldrum; it is not the technique that makes the image, it is the vision he has developed that determines the technique. That’s why we summon our strong effort to make these prints, why Joe will not compromise them, and why they are unique and deserving of attention.

Our collaboration has become a living and growing event, with excellent results to this point, and a great promise for the future.