Fritz Van Orden, Baby Candle Circle, 2019

Fritz Van Orden, Baby Candle Circle, 2019, pencil and ink on paper, 5.5 x 7 ⅜ in.

The key word here is: free. Whatever binds language together was laid aside and, except for an occasional apostrophe of possession or question mark, with no central authority or a memory of one, with groupings headed by proper nouns that refuse to be the boss, with paper and a pen held by a hand with a bad crush on Sumerian, Fritz Van Orden makes a stone sober disembodied poetic that reads just as free left to right as right to left. (You don’t have to turn it upside-down to experience it unnamed or unlabeled: its contours are just as vivid right-side up.)

And these are contours of…? Each word, plastic, molded, seems to have been carefully cut from a plastic tree and placed onto a felt blotter, this act done silently: noise would shatter it; each word living out its short plastic life, with no reason to pounce on anything else, never knowing what lived beside it. Van Orden’s particular take on Next frees him: each word is a surprise but in no way is “random;” everyday words, in their everyday clothes, prime no pump, rehearse no Policy Statement. They exist to sit at a piano and clean its keys, with a tissue, never rubbing, never attacking, each soft press making a hall, or a cell, of sound: dry-built, swept, ungarnished plainsong.

Text by Matthew Crain

Part of Passing Bittersweet, a 2020 exhibition at the Williams Center Gallery.