Over the inclining planes of Robert Mangold’s A Curved Line within Two Distorted Rectangles, a delicately-sketched geometry plays out. Separated into two parts by a single ruler-straight divide, each section is subtly, disorientatingly asymmetric: parallels threaten to converge, perpendiculars tilt, angles swell and taper. A single line spans precisely from one edge of the canvas to the other, traversing the coloured field, vaulting seamlessly across the central break. Its faint curve suggests that it belongs to a monumental geometry, tracing the circular perimeter of an impossibly expansive shape. Executed in 1978, A Curved Line within Two Distorted Rectangles is an elegant example of the Mangold’s rigorous practice, in which the artist has reduced the vocabulary of painting to its basic elements – to flatness and shape, colour and line. It is in the combination and variation of these precisely-calculated units that the work becomes a field of dynamic unity, made up of shifting interrelations. ‘I think that the key thing about my paintings is that I’ve always had the desire to make the work be a unity, and I wanted nothing to be ahead of anything else,’ stated Mangold. ‘I wanted the elements, which were the periphery line and the internal line, the surface colour, etc. to be equal. I wanted them to be so totally locked together that they were inseparable’ (R. Mangold, quoted in C. Sauer et. al., Robert Mangold, Zurich 1993, pp. 16-17).
This pronounced economy of means has linked Mangold’s practice with the rigid stringency of Minimal Art. Yet, unlike the Minimalists, Mangold retains a covert passion for his materials and for handling them: the sinuous line of A Curved Line within Two Distorted Rectangles is drawn by hand, entirely without the aid of mechanical means, in a virtuosic feat of co-ordination of body and eye. Over it, a thin layer of acrylic paint is applied with a roller, in a subtle colour which calls to mind the enchanting half-tones of Italian frescoes. In this meticulous, studied process, Mangold recalls the architect, poring over plans which acquire nuanced complexity as they develop. Indeed, the artist has associated his challenging asymmetric geometries with the scope of architecture: ‘One of the things that used to fascinate me was those architectural sections between the buildings, sections of air… And I used to see those and I used to think about… a painting that would be atmospheric and architectural’ (R. Mangold, quoted in C. Sauer et. al., Robert Mangold, Zurich 1993, p. 23).