Thursday, August 5, 2010

Robert Ryman at the Phillips Collection

If you live near Washington DC, try to get a chance to go to the Phillips Collection to see their Robert Ryman exhibit which brings together 26 small-scale paintings from private collections. Robert Ryman: Variations and Improvisations is the artist's first solo presentation in the Washington area, & it ends on September 12.

Untitled 1961

Robert Ryman was born in 1930 in Nashville, went to New York to study jazz, got a job as a guard at the Museum of Modern Art. He says that standing in the museum for hours at a time, he spent his time really looking, which trained his eye and helped him develop his artistic voice. From 1955 on, set himself up as the guy who painted white squares -- thousands by now. And he just keeps painting them, with variations, at the age of 80. When he talks about his paintings, I could almost swear it was my no-nonsense yoga instructor talking about yoga.

Series #33 (White)
"Music is an abstract medium, and I thought painting should also just be what it’s about and not about other things- not about stories or symbolism. I don’t think of my painting as abstract because I don’t abstract from anything. It’s involved with real visual aspects of what you are looking at- whether wood, paint, or metal- how it’s put together, how it looks on the wall and works with the light. I use real light, so there’s not an illusion of light. It’s a real experience. The lines are real. You see real shadow. The wall is involved with the painting." - Robert Ryman

Untitled 1958

"The square? I began with that in the 1950s. The square has always just been an equal-sided space that I could work with. Somehow it’s become so natural to me that I just don’t think of it any other way. It doesn’t have the feeling of a landscape or some kind of window or doorway that we usually associate with rectangles. It’s just a very neutral kind of space, and it seems to feel right to me because of my approach to painting." - Robert Ryman

Versions IV
"Of course, realism can be confused with representation. And abstract painting- if not abstracting from representation- is involved mostly with symbolism. It is about something we know, or about some symbolic situation. I don’t make a big deal about this realism thing. It just seems that what I do is not abstract. I am involved with real space, the room itself, real light, and real surface." - Robert Ryman

"Some of the paintings, particularly the smaller ones, had heavy edges and I used the sides as part of the composition. So sometimes the paint would go off the right or left side, and when you looked at the paintings obliquely you would see them in a different way." - Robert Ryman

Untitled 1959
"There is a lot of meaning, but not what we usually think of as meaning. It’s similar to the meaning of listening to a symphony. You don’t know the meaning, and you can’t explain it to anyone else who didn’t hear it. The painting has to be seen. But there is no meaning outside of what it is." - Robert Ryman

To Gertrud Mellon 1958

"The ‘Version’ paintings were on very thin fiberglass panels. I used that material because I wanted thinness and strength, but something that was so close to the wall that it would look almost like paper. It had a nice gray-green color, which I liked, and I could use that color as part of the composition and the painting itself." - Robert Ryman

Station 1994
"White has a tendency to make things visible. With white, you can see more of a nuance; you can see more. I’ve said before that if you spill coffee on a white shirt, you can see the coffee very clearly. If you spill it on a dark shirt, you don’t see it as well. So it wasn’t a matter of white, the color. I was not really interested in that. I started to cover up colors with white in the 1950s." - Robert Ryman

Untitled 1962-1963