Willard Boepple

Wood and Paper, Sculpture and Prints
June 27, 2020   -   July 26, 2020

Willard Boepple: Extreme Gestures Et Al

Karen Wilkin, New York, June 2020

Willard Boepple’s sculptures are resolutely abstract, yet they are also potent metaphors for lived experience. In the past, fascinated by the way the proportions of the human body inform the things we use every day, he made inventive structures that took as their point of departure ladders and shelves, as well as works that explored how the sense of stretching one’s limbs could be embodied sculpturally. Some sculptures, either airy and linear, or dense and almost impenetrable, examined our awareness of enclosure, both at the scale of habitation and as intimate table-top objects, while more recently, large, loose-limbed constructions demanded to be read as visual improvisations on movement. And more. 

Boepple’s recent table-based sculptures, made in 2019, range from poised, fairly open structures that play delicate curves against forthright but refined trestle-like configurations, to chunky works built of robust, usually angular elements. After thinking for a number of years about extension and expansiveness in a series of open towers and shambling, horizontally developed linear works, Boepple seems to have become fascinated with very different, even diametrically opposed notions, specifically with the extreme gestures and compression of wrestling – not, it must be stressed, in any literal sense, but rather in terms of the sensation of gripping, clenching, and embracing. If this sounds as if the results would be brutal or claustrophobic, think again. Many of the 2019 sculptures are constructed with relatively substantial angular, angled elements that come close to interlocking in various ways, but always remain independent and potentially mobile. “I’ve been listening to a lot of Bach, lately,” Boepple – the son of two musicians – says, “mostly Glenn Gould playing the 2 and 3 Part Inventions. I’d like that sense of different voices moving back and forth, responding to each other, in the sculptures.” 

Spend some time with Boepple’s recent works and we begin to recognize familial resemblances among particular works, elements – now slimmer, now thicker – that recur in different sculptures, their identity transformed each time by new relationships and new positions, just as the various motifs and voices in Bach’s compositions are transformed by new harmonic combinations. It may be that the diversity of “sources” triggering Boepple’s invention creates the enlivening, animating tension in his recent works. In the chunky works, the component elements, no matter how substantial, always seem casually, albeit inevitably, disposed. We can’t imagine the sculptures looking any way but the way they do, yet we also mentally recapitulate their assembly, acknowledging the previous independence of each component element and, often, relating it to a cousin, similar but not identical, in a wholly new situation in another construction. This sense of vitality is enhanced by Boepple’s use of color. Some works are solidified by a single, often unexpected hue, so that they stamp themselves as coherent and individual, while the spatial articulations of others are emphasized by variations in tone or chroma in different parts. Boepple has been making monoprints in recent years, working with the British master printer Kip Gresham, in Cambridge, to develop a technique of layering planes of varied hues, assembled as directly as the planes of his sculptures. This building with color seems to have affected the way Boepple either intensifies the disjunctions and contrasts within his constructions, or suppresses them in order to stress the singularity of the object. Like the sculptures, the prints depend upon repeated elements, transformed, in each sweep of the squeegee across the screen, by changing overlaps of various hues, layerings that, in turn, create new hues, so that each print (with some rare exceptions) is unique. While the monoprints and the sculptures are declaratively about their specific materials and the way they are deployed, there is nonetheless a provocative conversation among Boepple’s two and three dimensional works. The works in each medium help us see their counterparts in fresh ways.

I’ve spoken of family resemblances among Boepple’s sculptures, but that’s something of an oversimplification. Each group of works, whether composed of similar or dissimilar elements, is made up, like any interesting family, of stubborn individuals, each unlike the others, their shared traits notwithstanding. And there is usually a surprising oddball, an idiosyncratic outlier that explores notions unlike anything proposed by its fellows. Sometimes the outliers prefigure works to come. Sometimes they are ends in themselves. We’ll just have to look hard at what we are presented with, at the moment, and wait to see what might happen in the future.


Willard Boepple: Wood and Paper, Sculpture and Prints includes small and mid-sized polychrome wood sculptures, suites of new monoprints, and a selection of small 3D-sintered nylon sculptures. Boepple has exhibited nationally and internationally with recent one-person shows at MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA; Architects Gallery, New York, NY; and Broadbent Gallery, London, UK. His work has been included in over fifty group exhibitions, including Aleph Contemporary, London, UK; Zuleika Gallery, London, UK; Art 3, Lori Bookstein Fine Art, and Zurcher Gallery in New York, NY. Boepple studied at University of California at Berkeley, Rhode Island School of Design, and received his BFA at City College of the City University of New York.