“I am an abstract sculptor and I believe in the power of wordless, unadorned visual relationships, movements in space to create and evoke soaring sensations of love and discovery.”
Internationally recognised as a leading contemporary abstractionist, Willard Boepple is highly regarded for an extensive oeuvre of sculpture and works on paper created over the course of over fifty years. Boepple’s graphic work in particular is distinguished by a combination of complex layering of form with a distilled and harmonic sense of geometry. Colour and intersection of shape and line create movement and a moving architecture made of light and transparent hue.
A sense of kinetic experimentation within pared down geometric shapes and forms is reflected in the artist’s fascinating and creative process for making a print. This begins with a drawing made through the arrangement of shapes and movements where forms “abut, bend, slide and fold adjacent to other shapes and become another shape entirely.”
The printmaking series are in fact a variation on the original drawing and the next stage takes place when the image is broken down into its component shapes. The deconstructed shapes from the original drawing are transferred onto the screen and paper and coloured ink is squeezed through the shape on the screen and onto the paper and repeated for each shape. The artist notes that this first inking is only the beginning and shares that they will return to the process: “It is during this building process, the layering of the colours, that exploration of the image or form takes place - changing, strengthening, and layering different colours into each shape and sometimes cropping off bits of a shape. Typically, we will work on a group of a dozen sheets at a time and working directly in this fashion, we will make changes from sheet to sheet.”
Indeed, it is within these moments of construction and deconstruction that one can see the relationship between Boepple’s graphic work and his sculptural practice. The play with colour and space is not confined to paper but reflects the process of making the print, the layering and emerging of colour and by extension seems to as well mirror the play of structure, colour and voids as seen in the artist’s sculptural forms. While of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, Boepple’s work has a modernist classicism to it, the elegance of voids, of juxtaposition, the use of chance and repetition to create pure and beautiful formulas of structure, architecture and constellation.
Rosa JH Berland
THE ORDER OF PLAY
The rivetingly handsome, intriguing monoprints of Willard Boepple—streamlined and complex in equal measure—invite the imagination to play. And this website, far from merely documenting his ongoing achievements in printmaking, is an arena in which the pleasures of that game unfold. Teasing yet driven by their own logic, these images are inviting and aloof, sensual and cerebral, singular and serial. They are insistently flat and suggestively multidimensional.
Once we know that their author is a sculptor, and more particularly this sculptor, the prints make sense, both as an extension and a counterpoint to Boepple’s primary enterprise. A sculptor since the early 1970s and a novice in printmaking when he arrived at Print Studio in Cambridge, England in 2004, to work with master screenprinter Kip Gresham, Boepple’s first impulses in this graphic medium flowed from a series of sculptures he had recently been making, also in England, in resin. These played with the transparency and opacity of that medium accentuated through the stacking of elements. So, despite their insistent flatness and dependence on color, these are very much the prints of a sculptor. Forms engage the mind “in the round,” while these images also implicitly incorporate time. With the folding back and forth developed over the years in his screenprinted shape vocabulary—all that layering and pivoting—each print is a succession of planes.
Within a given series he selects a set of stenciled shapes, proceeding with a distinct color for each pull. Placement being constant, color choices have perceptually crucial implications. If shape is the vehicle in each series, one could say that color is the motor. And yet, despite the play of illusion, these prints also have the groundedness, stasis, and no-nonsense matter of fact-ness of sculpture. Surprises lie in the results, not in some mystery attending the process.
Each image implies temporal succession in the narrative of how its constituent structures and colors came together. And time is implicit in that sense the viewer has of walking around and into forms. But time also manifests in the bigger story of theme and variation, how each series is an elaboration of chromatic and spatial permutations.
Theoretically, the artist might have made any number of variants within a series—color interactions being open-ended in possibility. But once successful candidates have been selected and ordered, the completed sequence basks in the aura of a mathematical proof. Except that, for Boepple, music not math is the go-to paradigm for creativity and resolution. The way color literally changes shape in Boepple’s prints reminds us why metaphors of color (“the chromatic scale”) are so compelling to musicians. Boepple’s movement within a set has the intuited authority of musical composition. In his sculpture, the developmental algorithm is essentially musical: an idea takes shape, demands variation, asks questions, leaves the artist to wonder “what if?” It elaborates, exhausts itself, suggests a radical variant, segues into a new form, where the process starts again. Over the decades, in this way, Boepple has generated a roughly sequential oeuvre that divvies up into series whose names indicate his central concern with an abstracted sense of the body extending into familiar functions: ladders, looms, shelves, rooms, towers, trestles, and so on. These series have been years in the making, each sculpture very much an independent expression in its own right. Poetic, often humorous titles undermine overarching allegiance to a given series. In printmaking, roles are reversed and time speeds up. In each set, the originating structural idea is fixed: it is color that moves the idea along, takes line for a walk, messes with directions. There are occasional correspondences between print and sculpture series—pinwheels and temples, for instance—but in general, the prints are independent, and on an ideational fast track. The neutral efficiency of their numbered titles indicates that they are on a mission, tracks their development by date.
While color is important in Boepple’s sculpture, it is secondary to structure. Color is chosen as a rightful surface complement to what is happening three-dimensionally. The sculptures are, for the most part, monochromatic and color is neither symbolic nor referential. In the prints, color is fully equal with structure, perhaps even the privileged party. As the artist puts it, the structures are built with color. It is worth recalling the fact that Boepple’s first ambition and his studies were as a painter; he found his true calling through assisting established artists in the fabrication of their sculptures. He himself works through assistants, as he has been disabled since mid-career. This is significant in understanding the ease and fecundity of an artist who has taken so well to working in a print studio, producing one-off proofs in series, as collaboration and communication are axiomatic in his creative life.
The experience of seeing these prints reproduced online is markedly different from holding the actual pages in one’s hand, or seeing them framed on a wall. Despite high quality photography, we have to allow for the loss of physicality, the sumptuousness of the paper support, the actuality of ink sitting upon and soaking into page, and the delightful glitches and gremlins—little surface ticks—lovingly tolerated by the artist in what might appear, in reproduction, as a high purism of graphic abstraction. But the website offers a truly significant, unanticipated consolation prize, something not to be had in the “analogue” experience: Clicking quickly between images within a given series produces a virtual animation. The web visitor is treated to stop motion-like flights of fantasy as the fans and cogs and origami flip and twist themselves around, revealing new forms, and generating visual marvels in the space between impressions.