Details
ROSS BLECKNER (b. 1949)
Untitled
signed and dated 'Ross Bleckner 1988' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
84 1⁄8 x 60 in. (213.6 x 152.4 cm.)
Painted in 1988.
Provenance
Annika Barbarigos, Athens
Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Zurich
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Exhibited
Zurich, Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Ross Bleckner, March-April 2007, no. 7 (illustrated).
Vienna, BA-CA Kunstforum, Monet-Kandinsky-Rothko und die Folgen. Wege der abstrakten Malerei, February-June 2008, p. 145, no. 4 (illustrated).
Zurich, Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Clemente – Bleckner - Marden, March-May 2022 (March only).

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Lot Essay

Coming of age in the 1970s, Ross Bleckner was a key member of a generation of artists that championed painting at a time when the artform was being dismissed by many as being old fashioned and not fit for purpose. Along with his colleagues David Salle and Eric Fischl, the young artist helped to shape the future of painting in the United States as he pushed for a more postmodernist tact that eschewed the material specificity of his forebearers. Part of his much-lauded series of stripe paintings, Untitled is a meditative canvas that allows the viewer to fully immerse themselves in the work. Working with a strict pattern, Bleckner interrupts this order with stains, shapes, and clouds of pigment that work to haze and obscure the primacy of the black and white structure. By doing so, he allows the audience to become entranced by the work and separate themselves from the physical act of viewing. “The imagery is more phenomenological in the stripes,” the artist insists. “It had to be constructed within the relationship of the spectator to the painting because it wasn’t in the painting and it wasn’t in the spectator” (R. Bleckner, quoted in A. Rankin, “Ross Bleckner by Aimee Rankin,” BOMB, Issue 19, April 1, 1987).

Working in earnest during the beginning of the AIDS crisis, Bleckner often used his canvases to reference broader ideas of mortality and loss while still adhering to a rigid set of visual conventions. His paintings deal "literally and metaphorically with the idea of death" (M. Herbert, "Ross Bleckner", Tema Celeste, 2001, p. 83.). Each strip acts as a channel in our own vision that beckons a deeper journey into the fog of memory hidden beyond the surface. The painting becomes a talisman for reminiscing about events catalogued away in our minds.

Rendered on a vertical plane, Untitled is made up of a series of even dark and light stripes that alternate from the left edge to the right. While an initial glance might tell the eye that each of these stripes is even and true, further exploration reveals a wavy, hazy quality to the artist’s marks that exposes the humanity of each stroke on the canvas. The dark lines waver and fall away from the edge of the work, their seeming order thrown into disarray by soft splotches of color and a gentle mottling of the work surface. In the top half of the composition, the marks are cut through by a solitary orange horizontal. Near its center, a pert little hummingbird sits with its wings extended. The white of its throat and green of its small body contrast against the background of alternating bars. Elsewhere, the stripes bleed into their neighbors with an effusion of color that seems to seep into the painting’s surface. Optically, these areas of spreading pigment form three dots of blue and three of lighter, rusty orange. Though not solid shapes in their own right, each area coerces the viewer’s brain to grapple with the illusionistic effect of the patterned ground, and in so doing helps to unlock the myriad tones and colors within the artist’s composition. “They [the stripe paintings] brought me to a way of working that has this continuous, pulsating, inner glow that keeps pushing itself,” Bleckner noted, “I don’t want them to be simply stripe paintings. I want them to be emblematic’ (R. Bleckner, quoted in In the Power of Painting, Zurich 2000, p. 132). Going beyond formal abstraction, the artist imbues works like Untitled with the air of a memento mori, the symbolic reminder of death and decay. Playing on the gleaming forms of mid-1960s Op Art, Bleckner tones down the panache in an effort to allow the viewer some respite as they remember those that came before.

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