“I could either deal with what [other movements had] already brought to the table, or I could clear everything off and redefine what painting could be for me. I tried to work with a clear table” (R. Mangold, quoted in R. Shiff, “A Compelling Uniqueness,” in Robert Mangold: Paintings, 1990-2002, exh. cat., Aspen Art Museum, 2003, p. 20).
Painted in 1973, Robert Mangold’s Circle Painting 4 dates to a formative period in the minimalist artist’s career, when he began using the shaped canvases and brushed-on acrylic that would come to define his oeuvre. Occupying the nebulous realm between object and image, Circle Painting 4, like much of Mangold’s signature work, purports at first glance to operate within the conventions of modernist abstract painting. Closer inspection, however, reveals an enticing paradox: while the painting reads as flat on the shaped canvas, its dusky monochromatic field is in fact punctuated by the pictorial element of sharp lines, drawn in white pencil across the surface. Although these lines seem to join in a geometric square, the image is illusory. In a brilliant conceptual feint, Mangold lets the lines fall off the edges of the canvas, resulting in an open form that cannot be resolved into a definite shape.
One of the most significant motifs in Mangold’s art, the open form of the present work’s composition suggests three-dimensional planes, creating a delicate tension between surface and depth. His art is restrained yet complex, and Circle Painting 4 illuminates the artist’s matchless revolution of painting, using the visual rhetoric of line, color and shape.