Robert Ryman (b. 1930)
initialed and dated 'R98' (lower edge); signed, titled and dated 'RYMAN 98 "BASE"' (on the overlap)
oil and graphite on canvas
15 x 15 in. (38.1 x 38.1 cm.)
Painted in 1998.
Pace Wildenstein, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner

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Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

Robert Ryman became a painter, not in art school, but among paintings. Though the artist had moved to New York in 1952 as a musician, he soon began his self-taught artistic career through both his own painterly experimentation and an education of intense looking while working as a guard at the Museum of Modern Art until 1960. It was here that he concentrated sternly on one artist's oeuvre at a time, learning the details of a carefully composed canvas from Cezanne and the use of non-figurative subjects from Mastisse. It was most certainly with Rothko, however, that Ryman sourced his most important lessons. Number 10, 1950, which entered into the Museum the year prior, was the first of the Abstract Expressionist's work that Ryman experienced. 'When I saw this Rothko, I thought "Wow, what is this? I don't know what's going on but I like it." What was radical with Rothko, of course, was that there was no reference to any representational influence. There was color, there was form, there was structure, the surface, the light - the nakedness of it, just there. There weren't any paintings like that' (R. Ryman quoted in R. Storr, Robert Ryman, New York, 1993, pp. 13-14).

Ryman's canvases are a playground for his gestures; a continued investigation into how paint acts on a surface. His early works began in color, first green, then orange, until the power of white became clear to him: "The use of white in my paintings came about when I realized that it didn't interfere. It's a neutral color that allows for a clarification of nuances in painting. It makes other aspects of painting visible that would not be so clear with the use of other colors" (ibid, p. 16).

As the artist's career continued, it became more and more clear, that his paintings were not a simple homage to the white monochrome but something much more. He has stated of his choice in the color: "I'm not interested in white as a color, although I have at times used different whites for different purposes. Sometimes I used warm white because I wanted to have a warm absorbing light. At other times I've used colder has to do with light--softness, hardness, reflection and movement--all these things...I don't think of myself as making white paintings. I make paintings; I'm a painter. White paint is my medium" (ibid, p. 17).

Through these subtle choices, Ryman demands attention to detail from the viewer. It is with this in mind that it becomes clear how much each of his paintings stand alone as sculptural objects. We as viewers are drawn into a tumultuous texture and each inch of paint requires time and gives satisfaction. With this Ryman has truly achieved a feat; a lifetime of learning through observation and re-working of a surface has led to a body of work that requires its own careful, intense looking.

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