San Francisco

Sarah Bostwick

Gregory Lind Gallery

The nine sculptural reliefs, or “inlaid drawings,” of architectural fragments that Sarah Bostwick exhibited recently are closely observed and strikingly composed. Each work in Bostwick’s “Grand Apartment” resembles a chunk of facade or interior wall seemingly extracted from its original site. Most are smooth white rectangular slabs of Hydrocal or wallboard that, from a distance, exude a minimalist purity. But on closer inspection, the artist’s hand is clearly evident in the range of intricate carving, etching, and inlaying on display.

A number of these works depict the elaborate skeletons and skins of characterful buildings—in the case of 3261 23rd Street at Capp, 2006, for instance, the curved moldings that accent a bay window. Bostwick thus creates spaces that no longer form cohesive physical structures or provide the psychological comfort attributed to, say, a bedroom. In fact, there’s more than a hint of Victorian melancholy to her project. Rosette, 2006, reproduces a portion of Bostwick’s own New York studio—mostly taken from the ornately decorated ceiling—as seen from a low angle. Within the composition’s square format, she shows an area of the ceiling, its parallel cornices forming a U shape, and incorporates layers of ornament that contribute to an illusion of dimensional space. Most of the piece is delicately inscribed, save for its upper right corner, in which a decorative element is more emphatically carved. The depth of this passage contrasts with the shallow cornice furrows, suggesting a sensitivity to the limits of the handmade.

While the white Hydrocal or wallboard sometimes suggest soap, other materials used—plastic, plaster, slate, hardwood, and ivory—are not so easily tamed, and surface markings convey the struggle involved in shaping them. The composition of each work also conveys the labor-intensive narratives of their making: In order to represent her particular vision of constructed space, Bostwick moves from smooth, uninflected expanse to obsessively worked passage and back again. Her treatment of dimensionality, especially when she sinks her work directly into the gallery wall, plays on and exacerbates the tensions between surface and depth, dark and light. Second Story, 2005, for example, is made from cocobolo, a dark wood that immediately evokes a nineteenth-century drawing room. The irregularly shaped carving is set into the wall but still suggests the possibility that it’s an exposed fragment of the structure beneath. As in Rosette, Bostwick includes a small area at the top of the construction that recedes more deeply than the rest; in this case, though, the stark white of the gallery wall shows through. That the piece is inset into the more permanent architecture of the space adds to the illusion of deep perspective.

When Bostwick moves on to modern buildings, as she does in Pine, 2006, the tone changes, and her carved lines take on a complex geometric order. This work depicts a Lower Manhattan building under construction, the artist’s version formed with Xs and rectangles, its depth emphasized by inset bands of carved black plastic. Within a historically ambiguous context and inflected by the qualified optimism of urban development, Bostwick takes on—with some success—the theme of building from the ground up, of the act of creation itself.

Glen Helfand