Three mutually tangent circles delimit a soft triangular shape, each coiled in a thick concentric double layer. Two distinct
shapes—circles and a triangle; two distinct material surfaces—crisp linear circuits shaded by soft, allover atmospheric swaths. Apparently flat shapes on a two-dimensional plane seem as ready to recede into a darkened interior as much as to project into our viewing space. Juxtaposing opposing textures, shapes, and spatial relationships, with Untitled, 1973, Richard Serra has constructed a
complex arrangement of contrasts held “tight” by a masterfully balanced contiguity. Not unlike his first “prop” pieces, which use gravitational forces to “weld” together two lead plates, each supported by the other’s weight, Untitled seems to harness the same counterbalancing forces, engaging divergent tactilities (hard edges and soft), spatial fields (a suggestion of volume and plane and of interior and exterior) and geometries (circles and angles). Using the effects of built-up masses and the seeming weight of gravity in an almost illusionistic manner, Serra recreates with densely packed paint-stick and transparent, velvety charcoal, an experience for the viewer that is viscerally and optically charged. The process of making the drawing is revealed in its surfaces—the soft charcoal strokes rounding the circumference seem to gain speed and with it textural accretions, such that they not only play off the linear outline but also anticipate and grow into it. With Untitled, Serra asks us to observe the process of the work’s making, to locate the forms in space.
Known for his monumental sculptures that articulate both the surrounding architecture as well as the topography, the elements at work in Untitled feel familiar. Serra’s drawing extends the viewer's perceptions over time, as one moves from one position to the next, never able to quite take in the work as a whole. Untitled is about relationships between material, form and gravity; it is also about process. In Untitled, the sense of shifting or modulating perspectives continues in part because of its resonance with an earlier work from 1968, Slow Roll for Philip Glass, dedicated to the Minimalist composer Philip Glass. Three sheets of lead are rolled and stacked, becoming tangent tubular elongations. Viewing Untitled, it’s as if the viewer is placed at eye level with these three endpoints, tangent circumferences and concentric circles that seem to extend into some imagined recess of the plane.
The idea that the process of making a drawing or a sculpture can be visualized or intuited by the viewer is central to Serra’s production. Just as the materials impose their presence on beholders of Serra’s site-specific sculptures, so the process of their making is foremost in their minds. Untitled is a drawing that Serra undoubtedly made with Slow Roll in mind, given the stacking of concentric circles. Serra remarked on how he used such drawings to work over the problems he set for himself in terms of how a work is experienced and seen: “The drawings on paper are mostly studies made after a sculpture has been completed. They are the result of trying to ask and define what surprises me in a sculpture, what I could not understand before a work was built. They enable me to understand different aspects of perception as well as the structural potential of a given sculptures. They are distillations of the experience of a sculptural structure” (R. Serra, “Notes on Drawing,” Richard Serra Drawings/Zeichnungen 1969-1990, Bern, 1991). In 1966, in a break with formalist Minimalism based on the grid, Serra created a list of verbs to describe actions performed on any material that would take shape in the process of their making. This conceptual change in what a sculpture could be—no longer was a form in space constructed out of planes or grids and experienced as a completed work of art. Serra in contrast, demonstrates in Slow Roll as well as in Untitled, how necessary it was for him to push beyond traditional conceptions of art-making. Untitled brings the viewer into the process of art, where the action of drawing is apparent and where the articulation of space and material is active. Whether formed from lead or the dense impasto of the paint stick, wispy and translucent charcoal, “drawing was implied in the activity. The making of the form itself… was implied in the drawing within the physical transformation of material form one state to another.”
All of these activities are “all modes of drawing. ...Anything you can project as expressive in terms of drawing—ideas, metaphors, emotions, language structures – results from the act of doing” (R. Serra, “‘About Drawing,’ op. cit., p.77).