Jessica Warboys

“Parasol,” Jessica Warboys’s solo debut show, was dominated by two large unstretched canvases at opposite ends of the gallery, both indexical in procedure. Blue Parasol, 2009, is actually a cyanotype photogram: Warboys made it by coating the canvas with a light-sensitive solution, placing a bundle of reeds in a circular formation suggesting the shape of an open parasol at its center, and exposing it to the sun. Sea Painting, Dunwich, 2009, was formed by immersion in the ocean, its pigment spread by the waves. Importantly, the artist has cut significant portions of each canvas away, revealing the doors on each wall in the exhibition.

In the center of the gallery were three small marble sculptures—Island, Green Curtain End Vertical, and White Curtain End Vertical, all 2009—each based on the form of a knob at the end of a curtain rod. Fallen Through, 2009, is a rectangular block of oak in which an indentation the shape of the same curtain end has been hollowed out by chain saw. Ladder Ladder, 1997/2009, is a found, X-shaped painting (the cross is formed by two small ladders) that the artist has restored and repainted in its original color (red).

Much of the effectiveness of the show came from the feeling of emptiness in the gallery, or rather of powers half-glimpsed and barely remembered. To a sympathetic viewer, the lack of anything sturdier or more obviously developed served to indicate a gossamer sensibility, perhaps a yearning for a world in which all things are bound together in a mystical whole—a world that must slip away, to be seen again only from afar. It all became a matter of what Warboys implies, or asks us to remember: the waves, the sun, a pastoral, art lost and found. “Parasol” was nostalgic, but in a peculiar sense: The longing it embodied was not for the past, exactly, but rather for the present, for a presence of any kind.

With nostalgia comes expectation. The artist has a background in performance and film as well as sculpture, and her repetition of the curtain-end motif highlighted the curtainlike qualities of the paintings: On the one hand, they were adjusted, like household drapes, to the practical demands of the space, modified to allow room for the doors; at the same time, and in conjunction with the curtain-end motif, they read as theatrical curtains, marking the limits of a nonexistent performance. It was hard not to feel that the gallery had been prepared, as in an occult ritual, for some conjuration—as if the curtain-rod marbles were to be grasped and animated, as if these forms and metaphors might be brought to fruition or even explode into life like the great, dominating sunburst around the gallery door.

The fragility of “Parasol” was its strength. The exhibition succeeded thanks to the artist’s quiet adjustment of motifs and her orchestration of the whole. Whether the individual pieces will be able to muster the same intensity, and whether Warboys will be able to continue walking a tightrope between presence and disappearance without herself disappearing remains to be seen.

David Lewis