Julia Shepley’s wall constructions give the sense of architecture and furnishings gone awry, their dimensions stretched in an almost dream-like fashion. In “Carry,” her current exhibition (on view through May 1, 2022), Dusk Window Weave serves as a portent of what is to come. Made of wood, ink, and waxed linen, it extends the ordinary rectangle of a window into a parallelogram with an open, “broken” angle that allows us to enter the space, while a delicate gestural curtain shades the top half. The related Night Window is denser, with multiple layers creating a simultaneous illusion of transparency and solidity.
Shepley explains that her sculptures, drawings, and prints are based on her “observations of architecture and stonework as reflected in pools of water and waterways.” This is an important key to the inventive distortions that characterize her work. In Expandable Walking Windows 1–4, the architectural references are clear, the basic shapes pulled to the limit. In each work, delicate pieces of wood are bound together with string, glue, and tiny brass brads, which enhance the floating sense of the forms.
Because the pieces are suspended from the wall, the shadows cast by their openwork construction become integral to the viewing experience. These shadows, in shades that range from light to dark gray, add another layer of dimensionality. A side view of Night Window is particularly intriguing, with the cast shadows extending the weave into a visual layer of almost greater solidity. The visual back and forth from shadow to form increases the impression of three-dimensional drawings in space.
Springboard, a large openwork piece with recognizable doorway and window components, features arced elements that give a crucial sense of motion and threaten to send the entire construction reeling off into space. Carry, which stretches over five feet, is a tour de force of Shepley’s unique construction methods. A combination of wheelchair and medical stretcher forms joined by waxed linen thread, it portrays both strength and fragility. Ride, made of delicate yet strong bamboo, employs all of the push and pull of the larger works, combined with wonderful swaths of dark blue paint on the central form. Small architectural elements float in space around the large, energetic core, bound by delicate wrapped threads. This study in formality and play incorporates all of Shepley’s signature elements—gestural construction, touches of color, architectural references, and imaginative couplings.
“Carry” is imbued with Shepley’s joy in open-ended exploration and her immersion in the spirit of each work. Patient experimentation, long hours in the studio, and consummate skill have produced a group of sculptures that allow us to follow her journey into form. It is impossible not to note the contrast between Shepley’s work and that of Kathleen Volp, on view in an adjacent gallery. Volp is clearly obsessed with the making of objects—small, dense objects rendered in plaster, paper pulp, porcelain powder, and pigments that take on fanciful shapes and suggestive titles, including Euclid’s Dream, Thing One and Thing Two, and HA!. It is almost as if Shepley and Volp are inviting us into a conversation between two opposing sculptural languages. Both are delightful in their particularity and authenticity of artistic search.