Robert Rymans Series # 9 (White) (2004), an oil painting on canvas, features a magnetism generated by upper left and lower right corners that seem to beckon to each, a coloring effect that evokes a certain stormy feeling.
On the Edge
Robert Ryman explores the gray matter tugging at its confinement
By Gregory Montreuil
Robert Ryman uses a systematic approach that yields instinctual results. In the exhibition NAME at Pace Wildenstein in Chelsea, the self-taught artist continues his long-term exploration of white paint, scale, support and composition. Ryman is now tackling integration, working to incorporate white and the dark ground as one, according to the exhibitions artist statement.
Oil on canvas works of varying sizes are juxtaposed in a beautiful installation. The paintings, completed in 2003 and 2004, range in scale from a ten-inch square to an eight-foot square. The application and distribution of the pigment are done is such a way that the sides of the canvases are utilized.
I use the sides of the paintings compositionally since the paintings themselves are the subject, explains Ryman.
The edge where white meets black plays a prominent role in each work. In the stage-like squares, the application and integration of surface and ground take shape with four varied whites atop the matte black ground. The white can be thin or thick, smooth or lumpy, blended or turbulent, each of these choices evoking a different mood. All of the paintings convey a feeling of contained calm.
In Series #9 (White), 2004, the upper left and lower right pull toward each other with a kind of magnetic attraction, evoking a stormy feeling. In Series #22 (White), 2004, has a turbulent mid-tone gray center moving away from the sharp white left edge and contained by the dark lower right corner.
One of the most effective devices employed in the larger canvases floats them away from the wall, allowing them to hover. A mid-tone gray shadow relates to the transitional grays of the paintings, an effect that aids in the merger of the wall and picture planes, ultimately unifying the space itself. Less successful are the three-inch wide edged smaller canvases that protrude from the wall, feeling a bit abrupt and object-like.
Series #3 (White), one of the largest works, is subtle and engaging, surrounded by a thin sliver of black. Smooth cream-colored strokes undulate across the canvas making the painting expansive; it surrounds and engulfs much like a Barnett Newman. Series #6 (White), 2003, a 53-inch square, looks as if one white was applied from one direction and another shade was applied from another, creating an active and energized surface with the dark ground skillfully mergedsubsumed but present.
Rymans strong and accomplished pairings and his propensity for exploration are impressive and formidable. Avoiding artifice, this exhibition shows Ryman challenging himself with new parameters. The artist is not afraid to approach the edge, his inquiry reduced but not distanced and ultimately human. The viewer with time is truly rewarded. One wishes all integration would be pursued so fearlessly.