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White Gray Black

Robert Ryman (American, born 1930)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

American painter and printmaker. After studying at the Tennessee Polytechnical Institute, Cookeville, between 1948 and 1949, and at the George Peabody College for Teachers between 1949 and 1950, he settled in New York in 1950 and made his first monochrome abstract paintings in about 1955. He was at that time very isolated in his approach, for although he had reacted against the domination of Abstract Expressionism, he had no intention of reintroducing realism or of depicting objects. It was not until the late 1960s that he began to exhibit regularly; for example, his work was included in the important exhibition ‘Systemic Painting’ at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1966. His work is often associated with Conceptual art, but although organized into non-representational systems, it is fundamentally a quest for pictorial expression.

Ryman reduced his painting to the strict minimum: the square format and the colour white. He permutated and varied these constants by manipulating scale and texture. Small and large formats were arranged on the same wall and all sorts of media were applied to a variety of supports so that the results were always different. Ryman demonstrated that pictorial complexity can be achieved by using an extremely restricted vocabulary. He sought to heighten the viewer’s sensitivity to subtle variations in the brushwork, surfaces and materials employed as well as the relation of the painted areas to the edges of the support. He also insisted on the relation of the painting to the wall on which it hangs, either by attaching it very closely, even to the point of painting the wall itself, or by detaching it in a visually obvious way. From 1976 he incorporated the hanging system into the composition of the picture, using metal fastenings whose function is both visual and practical. Close to Minimal art, Ryman’s work may be distinguished from it by the importance he gave to the painted surface and to the painter’s touch, using these as essential elements in his highly refined examination of the optical and material properties of the painting discipline.

Alfred Pacquement
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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