Fluorescent Lithograph. 24in. x 48in. 1996
While stationed in Allied-occupied France, a young William Walmsley differentiated himself from the other men in his unit by hoarding his army-rationed candy and cigarettes instead of consuming them, subsequently selling them to his peers after they had consumed their own rations. Walmsley used the money he made from this clandestine business to visit Paris on his free days, not in order to woo a stylish demoiselle, but to the rather prosaic end of absorbing “cathedrals, monuments, public sculpture, national architecture, all [the art] that was still available”.
After the war Walmsley pursued a degree in Fine Arts in his home state of Alabama, inspired by the “wealth of culture” that he had observed in Europe. But by his junior year he decided that he had learned all he could in the rural South and resolved to make his way back to Paris. The GI Bill paid for Bill, as he was called by his friends, to rent a tiny room and attend The Academie Julian for a year, during which he spent all his free exploring the city’s vast reservoirs of art – many of which had been closed during his wartime visits. After Paris, Walmsley studied at the prestigious Art Students league in New York for a year before returning to Tuscaloosa for graduate studies. He began teaching in the 50s, joining the faculty of FSU toward the end of the decade. In 1962 he discovered a defunct 19th century lithography press there, restored it to working order, and began the half-century long print series for which he is most known, the Ding Dong Daddy series.
The Ding-Dong Daddy series is named after the character it articulates and portrays, who is himself named Ding Dong Daddy – and who is both a muse and alter ego to Walmsley. Ding Dong Daddy is named after a popular jazz song from the early twentieth century that recounts the philandering exploits of a cable-car operator in San Francisco. The cable-car operator, who was a real person, was reupted to have many wives along his cable-car route…a rumor which a high-profile bigamy investigation conducted by the state courts found to be true. Dubbed “The Ding Dong Daddy of the D Car Line” by the media, presumably after both the bell he rang in the cable car to signal starts and stops and after the many doorbells of his multiple wives…the cable-car operator captured the American imagination for a few months, inspiring bawdy songs, ballads, newspaper stories, and magazine biopics. Thirty years after the exploits of the original Ding Dong Daddy, Walmsley adopted his title as an alter ego, and articulated his take on the Ding Dong Daddy mythos through an immense series of Lithographs.
Representing more than just libidinal freedom, Ding Dong Daddy was Walmsley’s contribution to the twentieth century avant-garde, made in the same spirit as Duchamp’s Fountain, or Warhol’s 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans. That is to say, in an antagonistic spirit; perhaps even an ironic one, since Walmsley was a bookish academic rather than a philandering cable car operator. But where those artists’ works lampooned the art world, or culture generally – Walmsley’s Ding Dong Daddy poked fun at American culture more specifically. Ding Dong Daddy appears in Walmsley’s work as a self-abnegating, nihilistic character (albeit still a jubilant one)…celebrating the Olympics in Hotlanta by punning “Oh Limp Hiccss”, or in the Tate Modern’s Ding Dong Daddy Dog Biscuits #2, referring to phalluses as “Dog Biscuits”. Ding Dong Daddy is a comedic character in Walmsley’s work, who by adopting the nonsensical antics and origin story of a jester, is able to criticize , question, and send-up parts of American culture which would otherwise be fraught with controversy.
SAM is funded in part by The Arts Partnership of Greater Spartanburg and its donors, the County and City of Spartanburg, and the South Carolina Arts Commission which receives support from The National Endowment for the Arts.