Sixty Six to Sixty Eight

Sixty Six to Sixty Eight
signed 'Richard Lin'; titled and dated 'sixty six to sixty eight 1966-1968' (on the reverse)
oil and aluminum on canvas
101.5 x 101.5 cm. (40 x 40 in.)
Executed in 1966-1968
Marlborough Gallery, UK
Marlborough Gallery, Rome
Anon, Sale, Christies London, 11 July 2013, Lot 165
Private Collection, Europe
Private Collection, Asia
The museum of Ixelles, From China to Taiwan: Pioneers of abstraction, Brussels, Belgium, 2017 (illustrated p. 214).
Brussels, Belgium, The museum of Ixelles, From China to Taiwan: Pioneers of abstraction, 15 June -24 September 2017.

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Kimmy Lau

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Lot Essay

Painting in relief was an important concept that guided Richard Lin's artistic development throughout his career. By combining sculptural concepts with the language of painting, he created a style that was unique in art history, and opened up new dimensions in painting. At the same time, he broadened the forms and connotations associated with the use of white. These developments grew out of his precise grasp of minute dimensions, his sharp artistic sensitivity, and his meticulous establishment of order within the pictorial frame. White thus became a vehicle expressing both Eastern culture and the Western spirit of modernity.

Lin's Sixty Six to Sixty Eight (Lot 9), completed between the years 1966 and 1968, is based on his iconic use of white. Close observation of this precise and rational work leads to the discovery of a number of interesting details: layers of white pigment of different thicknesses, together with four parallel aluminum strips, build a picture space of multiple thicknesses, while the orange-yellow block of color below the top aluminum strip echoes an area of pale yellow on the left, which together break through the original stillness of this composition.

Aluminum strips were one of the materials Richard Lin employed most often in the early phases of his Relief Painting series. He made use of aluminum, along with his oils, to establish the depth of the visual space and the existence of multiple planes on the surface of the canvas. He even named one work Aluminum Plate Relief, an indication of the importance that the metal held as he first established the concepts behind the series. And, as the line between sculpture and painting continued to blur, Lin became more confident in his use of different media. Sixty Six to Sixty Eight dates from Lin's mature period, and although he was already proficient in using oils to build up spaces beyond the plane of the canvas, he continued to explore making diverse materials a part of his works, combining them with oils in ingenious ways. Donald Judd, who also incorporated metals into his artistic creations, likewise made use of non-natural materials such as aluminum alloys and stainless steel. His installations, in the form of wall-mounted rectangular boxes, present us with works that are not reflective of any specific content or subject. An attitude of such rationality and restraint is not too different from Lin's, though what Lin wanted to express, given his dual background in sculpture and painting, was more than just a kind of installation or relief sculpture. Rather, his goal remained fixed on painting, and he hoped, with the assistance of sculptural methods, to create anew the possibilities of the painted space.

In 1966, the artist Miro visited Lin at his London studio, and summed up his appraisal of the artist in one sentence: “In his world of white, no one can come close to him.” As everyone now knows, the use of white was one of Richard Lin's trademark features; he displayed a full spectrum of whites to viewers, spreading countless shades of white on his canvas with only the slightest variation between them. Lin's ability to develop this single hue to the ultimate degree depended on a precise grasp of minute dimensions, a sharp artistic sensitivity, and his meticulous establishment of order within the pictorial frame. In this group of works, there are countless parallel strips of white color, their surfaces smooth and lustrous. Their width, thickness, solidity, depth, convexity or concavity, and the effects of light and shadow they produce, have all been precisely measured by the artist, and they are built up and layered, one on top of the other, over and over again. All of these factors mingle and fuse to achieve a perfect unity, which is what Richard Lin means when he says, 'One is everything.'

White acquired the status of a classic color in 20th century art history. This was partly due to its use in architecture, where it played the role of a unifier of all things. But it also has cultural meanings. It represents that which is pure and unadulterated, and it symbolizes both the unlimited and the minimal, in line with the spirit of modern civilization. Another artist of the same period, Agnes Martin, also had a special feeling for white, shown in works with a close connection to Zen thought. Her tranquil, pure white picture spaces similarly express, in the language of painting, the idea of 'emptiness' in Eastern philosophy. The difference in these two artists' works lies in the emotional expression to be found in Martin's work, whereas Richard Lin aimed to reduce the emotional aspects to their very minimum, whether in his choice of subject or in his use of color.

In another area, Richard Lin's mother culture developed in such a way that much emphasis is placed on the role of white in Chinese painting. In a great many Chinese paintings, white exists in the form of empty, or 'white' space, which, however, is a central element and is absolutely essential in those paintings. In this respect, it is said that 'white serves as black.' In this group of Richard Lin works, 'white space' is similarly employed to varying degrees around their peripheries to create a sense of space, one of the distinguishing tropes of Lin's work. Chinese painting also stresses subtle variations in ink shades, or 'the five colors of ink,' and Lin's whites, like ink, similarly display a wealth of shades and layers. For him, the idea in Eastern philosophy that 'one is everything' finds correspondence with the 'less is more' concept in the West's modern art. In this way, white becomes a vehicle expressing both Eastern culture and the Western spirit of modernity. Thus, even if Richard Lin's 'white on white' relief paintings had their starting point in Western media, they nevertheless display the fundamental values of Chinese culture.

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