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.
“Willard Boepple: Built and Printed,” Cynthia Reeves, MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, MA, May 19–June 23
“Willard Boepple Prints: 2+3D,” FXFowle Architects Gallery, New York, February 2–March 31
“Willard Boepple Prints: 2+3D,” Broadbent Gallery, London, May 17–June 2
“Willard Boepple: Sculpture,” John Davis Gallery, Hudson New York, July 23–September 11
“Willard Boepple: Sculpture,” Maddox Arts, London, February 11–April 18
“Willard Boepple: Monoprints,” Lori Bookstein Fine Art, New York, July 7–August 1
“Willard Boepple: Sculpture,” in conjunction with the launch of the Lund Humphries monograph, The Sense of Things: Willard Boepple Sculpture,” Lori Bookstein Fine Art, New York, November 13–December 20
Lori Bookstein Fine Art, New York, March 29–April 28, 2012
“Tower, Temple, Shelf, Room and Loom; Sculpture by Willard Boepple,” Johnson State College, Johnson, VT, September 10–October 13
Century Association, New York, April 6–May 6
Lori Bookstein Fine Art, New York, November 19, 2008–January 3, 2009
Broadbent, London, March 14–April 26
Maiden Lane Exhibition Space, New York, November 16–February 16
Lori Bookstein Fine Art, New York, October 26–December 9
London Art Fair, installation, January 17–22
Broadbent, London, November 16–January 29
Salander O'Reilly, New York, June
Broadbent, London, March 14–May 3
Broadbent, London, September 14–October 20
Virginia Lynch Gallery, Tiverton Four Corners, RI
Tricia Collins Contemporary Art, New York
Tricia Collins Contemporary Art, New York, March 4–27
New York Studio School Gallery, New York, February 25–April 3
Tricia Collins - Grand Salon, New York, September 30–October 25
Galerie du Tableau, Marseille, France, November
Francis Graham-Dixon Gallery, London, May 20–June 25
André Emmerich Gallery, New York, June 3–July 2
André Emmerich Gallery, New York, April 4–27
Francis Graham-Dixon Gallery, London, May 31–July 7
“Sculpture 1970-1990,” Usdan Gallery, Bennington College, VT
Greenberg Wilson Gallery, New York, February 2–28
Francis Graham-Dixon Gallery, London, April 21–May 21
Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, MA, April 21–May
Thomas Segal Gallery, Boston, MA, October 1–November 14
Acquavella Contemporary Art, New York, September 26–October 25
Thomas Segal Gallery, Boston, MA, April 10–May 5
Acquavella Contemporary Art, New York, December 3–31
Acquavella Contemporary Art, New York, February 23–March 13
Acquavella Contemporary Art, New York, April 1–29
Dart Gallery, Chicago, IL, May 15–June 10
Acquavella Contemporary Art, New York, March 19–April 13
Acquavella Contemporary Art, New York, March 13–April 7
Noah Goldowsky Gallery, New York, March 3–April 1
McCullough Park Foundation, North Bennington, VT
“True Colors,” Nassau County Museum, Roslyn Harbor, New York July 20–November 4
“Articulate, A Group Exhibition Curated by David Cohen,” Art 3, New York, April 5–May 21
“Willard Boepple & Lloyd Martin, Form and Abstraction,” Walpole, New Hampshire, June 25–August 27
“National Academy of Arts and Letters Invitational Exhibition,” New York, March 12–April 12
“The Bennington Legacy: Sculpture by Willard Boepple, Isaac Witkin, James Wolfe,” April 30–October 29
“Come Like Shadows,” Curated by David Cohen, Zurcher Gallery, New York, December 18–February 23
“Carved, Cast, Crushed, Constructed,” FreedmanArt, New York, March 8–October 1
“National Academy Annual,” National Academy Museum, New York, Summer
“Art in Nature,” Greenwood Gardens, Short Hills New Jersey, August 3–November 2
“Heavy Metal,” Lori Bookstein Fine Art, New York, May 30–June 29
“[Mostly] White,” Lori Bookstein Fine Art, New York, July 8–August 2
“Summer Exhibition 2013,” Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, London, June 10–August 18
“Summer Edition,” Lori Bookstein Fine Art, New York, June–August
“Invitational Exhibition of Visual Arts,” The American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, March 8–April 10
“Group 2011,” Lori Bookstein Fine Art, New York, January 5–February 5
“On the Wall/Off the Wall,” Lori Bookstein Fine Art, New York, March 18–April 16
“Summer Paper,” Lori Bookstein Fine Art, New York, July 7–August 5
“Colour and Substance,” Poussin Gallery, London, October 26–November 19
“The Trophy Room,” Parker’s Box, Brooklyn, NY
“2010 Collectors Show and Sale,” Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, AR, December 10–January 2
“2010 Wynn Newhouse Awards Exhibition,“ Palitz Gallery, Syracuse University Lubin House, New York, April 4–May 4
“Personal Geometry,” Lori Bookstein Fine Art, New York, January 8–February 7
“Anniversary: Ten Years of Gallery Art and Artists,” Lori Bookstein Fine Art, New York, March 20–April 14
“Some Sculpture: Albee’s Choice,” Long House Reserve, East Hampton, New York, May 27–September 17
9th Annual Art Park, North Bennington, VT, June 17–October 14
“Look then Think,” Broadbent, London, February 3–26
“Hand Made,” Clare Hall, Cambridge University, July 1–30
“The Print Show,” Kettles Yard, Cambridge, UK, July 2–24
“Recent Modernist Sculpture: Joined, Modeled, Cast, Carved, Poured, Painted,” curated by Karen Wilkin, Locks Gallery, Philadelphia, PA, September–October 8
“The Body Disembodied: Barré, Boepple, Ellis, Gibbons,” curated by Karen Wilkin, MacLaren Art Centre, Barrie, Ontario, Canada, November 22–February 1
“179th Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Art,” The National Academy Museum, New York, May 6–June 20
“Willard Boepple & Peter Griffin,” Gallerie Aalders, St Tropez, October
“The Archive Show,” Broadbent Gallery, London, Summer
“Colourspace,” curated by Clyde Hopkins, The Gallery at APT, March 1–23
“Willard Boepple, Ori Gersht, Albrect Schäffer,” Andrew Mummery Gallery, London November 23–December 21
“New Work,” Broadbent, London, Summer
“Sculpture,” Robert Steele Gallery, New York
“The Tipping Point,” Locks Gallery, Philadelphia, PA
“The Way Things Work,” Tricia Collins Contemporary Art, New York
Edmonton Art Gallery, Alberta, Canada
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, UK
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
National Gallery of Botswana, Gaborone
National Gallery of Kenya, Nairobi
Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, NY
Elected National Academy
Elected Fellow Royal Society of British Sculptors, London
Structural Play by Kip Gresham
Printmaking Today, Summer 2018
Master printer Kip Gresham describes the truly collaborative process of working with sculptor Willard Boepple; experimenting with form and colour to develop dazzling, sculptural screenprints.
Willard and I started working together 15 years ago when he was working on a series of translucent resin sculptures which became the inspiration for his first foray into printmaking. The first monoprints he made with us used rudimentary paper stencils drawn from his sculptures to create forms with multiple layers of screenprinted transparent colours. The vocabulary used then is still, essentially, the way we work now: like history it's one damned thing after another.
Willard writes: “I live and work in New York and Vermont and come to Britain two or three times a year, always saving as many days as I can to work with Kip. The planning and preparation are crucial for these sessions. Having the stencils cut and the paper prepared means we can hit the ground running and begin printing as soon as the colour choices are made. After three or four colours are mixed, the process of creating the image begins. It is a process of layering, of building form with colour, layer upon layer. Initially, in order to find the form in the layers of stencilled shapes, I like the inks to be thin and transparent so that the forms evolve gradually as the layers of ink build up. This building process often takes ten or fifteen layers before the form begins to appear, begins to assert itself. Each of the many layers taken to reach this point is a colour choice, a decision that either develops the story and evolves the form or risks disaster, clash, mud, ruin. The addition of each layer is a discovery in an ongoing adventure. The time is precious and the decision making intense. It is hard work at play. How I love it.” Whilst the whole enterprise is real fun, we are there to work, see, learn and break new ground. Each engagement throws up new possibilities and these are assimilated into the next project.
Typically, Willard will experiment with shapes in his studio and then convert them into Adobe Illustrator. He uses transparency in the layers to allow him to predict the overprint values and to discover the areas that will permit discreet cropping with extra masks on the press. Whilst the development of the artwork is very carefully considered, it still gives little insight into the magic that happens when ink hits paper.
When we have the key lines for the artwork the image is then scaled up and hand cut from red UV masking film. Because the film is also transparent it also gives new insights into the dynamics of the image. Often a project based around four separations will quickly reduce itself to two because the core of the idea is fully expressed in that way. His sculptors eye finds form or structure before image. These are not pictures but rather new ways of defining space. Shapes can be both in front of and behind others at the same time. He makes constructions that would be impossible in the real world. The normal constraints of structural integrity or manufacture do not apply.
We make all the indirect screen stencils before he arrives and set up the registry so that it all fits together. The paper is trimmed to a hard edge for accurate positioning and then allowed to rest in the studio, taking on the relative humidity of the space which will keep it as stable as possible. Given that the surface will have to carry many layers of ink applied in rapid succession, this is important. We usually print on Somerset Velvet because it has enough surface texture to make it engaging, but more interestingly it allows the ink to sink into or sit up on the surface depending on the fluidity of the ink and the number of layers. It can look like velvet or suede, like metal or stone, the touch is critical.
One of the key elements in our monoprinting is the capacity to move quickly from one form to another. In practice this means that all the elements are on one screen with the register set for each shape. Some shapes are printed in many layers. We use totally transparent solvent-based pigments, some with additional tinters boosting the saturation. The ink dries quickly and the dimensional stability of the paper is very good provided that the ink is cool air dried. Sometimes the paper is pre-printed with a black ground, usually printed twice and with the addition of blue tinter. When this is the case, then some of the shapes will be under-printed with various layers of transparent white, making a modulated series of greys for the colours to sit on.
Once Willard arrives it's all go. Sometimes, as he says, the shapes are developed in pale colours. A useful prelude is to mix three balanced transparent greys, one inflected with yellow, one with blue and one with red. The ideal is that when they all collide they make an uninflected neutral grey, where they appear alone their gentle colouration reads clearly. This quiet start rapidly escalates into high saturation with a very wide tonal range, soft against hard, bright against more muted tones, the darker areas providing punctuation and a foil for the paler ones. The choice of colours is paramount and the ink mixing is sometimes close to alchemy. A drop of purple in a yellow or a black added to a red can open up a new world.
The shapes that can be cropped (without introducing a new edge) may be trimmed, sometimes making new shapes, sometimes generating a new emphasis. Often this reveals a little marginal flash, a poke, which makes a shape bend or twist. These breaks suggest a third dimension, sometimes an impossible fourth one.
This is hard work. Hard on the eyes, hard on the brain and the body but it's very exciting. We like to work in multiples of twelve because that is about as much as the mind can cope with and also it's divisible by 6, 4, 3 and 2. When we're building the under structures it helps to be able to group the sheets by number. Once they develop an individual personality then each sheet is treated with respect and as itself, they all have to work. The conversation is continuous as the search for that intangible spark progresses.
Every sheet has a record on the edge of all that has been applied, the stencil number, the colour number, the number of hits, whether it was wet-on-wet or wet-on-dry and any masks in use. This alone is a feat of administration because it all happens very fast and decisions change. This record allows us, if we choose to do so, to run an edition from one of the monoprints. It's a recipe for success.
As the work progresses prints that shout at us to stop are pulled from circulation. Gradually the pile diminishes and they are all done. Then two a final decisions are made. Firstly, whether or not to apply a varnish giving further weight to a particular area. This can make an invisible shape appear in a black or richen a deep colour. Secondly, how is the sheet to be trimmed. Again, each sheet is a special case, maybe with a close cut or a wider torn margin.
I feel we have seen a new language emerge over the years; one in which there isn't an equivalent for sculptural space but rather a new way of expressing it. Willard's invention, our shared understanding of the methods and the materials couched in the warmth of our collaborative relationship make new thoughts possible. Watch this space.
Kip Gresham has been making collaborative prints with artists for over 40 years at his workshop, The Print Studio, Cambridge: theprintstudio.co.uk