This work will be listed as catalogue number 63.125 in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné project being organized by David Gray.
"Painters paint in all kind of ways, but I think that all painting is about enlightenment and delight and wonder. Wonder is something to do with experience and it has to do with painting. It is a special thing" (R. Ryman, "On Painting," in C. Sauer and U. Raussmuller, Robert Ryman, exh. cat., Paris, 1991, p. 59-65).
Painted in 1963, this striking early work reflects the crucial period of Robert Ryman's career in which he began to define his signature style. Characterized by rich, textural brushwork and a clean, minimal aesthetic, Green with Grid presents Ryman's rigorous approach to exploring the structure of painting. Here, Ryman reduces the most essential elements of painting--canvas and paint--to create a work that asserts the picture's textural and three-dimensional properties, as it gracefully collapses form and ground into one plane. Ryman reveals his true subject to be the paint itself, accentuating its materiality and its reaction to the canvas surface by edging the peaks and valleys of white impasto with color. Created in the years of his most dynamic use of materials, Green with Grid crucially incorporates vivid hues of blue and green to accentuate the angular brushstrokes and dimensional quality of the white paint. The picture's painted surface, dotted with jewel-toned marks of color, distinguishes this intimately-sized composition as a standout within Ryman's oeuvre. Made in his formative painting years, Green with Grid achieves the formal dichotomy that is present in Ryman's best works, appearing substantial and textural in its exposition of materiality, yet thoroughly lyrical in its visual purity.
Its title, Green with Grid, refers to the underlying network of lines, drawn in graphite on the raw canvas surface. The methodical and perfectly delineated grid is rendered nearly invisible under the thick, textural paint. Yet, Ryman's deliberately technical title parallels the tone of his entire career, distinct in its intellectual rigor and clearly-defined parameters. His exposition of materials isolates each layer of the picture, gracefully facilitating Ryman's interrogation into the painting practice: here, he calls attention to the unprimed canvas, fraying at the edges, the pencil-drawn grid and the thick white, all conceived within a square format. This recurring visual motif, the square's inherently balanced form crucially removed Ryman's need to ascribe pictorial order, appearing throughout his work as a recurrent visual motif.
It was Ryman who declared the square to be the only neutral shape--a non-evocative and neutral vehicle--to frame his compositions. This 1963 painting, with its echoing square format and drawn grid, anticipates Ryman's systematic compositions of his mature period, two years later. In Green with Grid, Ryman makes the unprimed and coarsely-cut canvas plainly visible, reversing traditional compositional formats. The raw canvas preserves the drawn grid, framing the gestural layers of thick impasto. The reflective surfaces of the white, green and blue paint counteract the raw nature of the underlying canvas. The importance of these alternating textures is then confirmed by the border of untouched canvas, acting as a crown to frame the compositional elements within.
Green with Grid reflects Ryman in his quintessentially investigative period, audaciously working towards a new direction in the history of painting in which he vacillates between abstraction and representation. Traditionally mutually exclusive concepts, Ryman defies the rigid categorization of style by collapsing form and ground, and making paint his subject matter: "I wanted to paint the paint, you might say" (R. Ryman, quoted in R. Storr, Robert Ryman, exh. cat., London, 1993, p. 18). Ryman termed this new form of painting as a realistic style: "I call it realism because the aesthetic is real. Realism has a different approach than representation and abstraction. With realism, there is no picture. The aesthetic is an outward aesthetic instead of an inward aesthetic, and since there is no picture, there is no story. And there is no myth. And, there is no illusion, above all. So lines are real, and the space is real, the surface is real and there is an interaction between the painting and the wall plane, unlike with abstraction and representation . . . I think it is more of a pure experience" (R. Ryman, "On Painting," in C. Sauer and U. Raussmuller, Robert Ryman, exh. cat., Paris, 1991, pp. 59-65).
Rejecting the traditional idea that a painted mark acts as a signifier, Ryman's painted surfaces focus on the physical qualities of the paint-- its texture, density and reflectivity. Typical of his works from this period in which he investigated the different aesthetic effects of different types of brushes and lengths of strokes, this 1963 work consists of short strokes applied with fluid ease. Green with Grid 's high peaks and deep valleys of impasto create an opulent and diverse texture of light-reflecting hotspots and contrasting shadows. Flashes of green and blue punctuate the active surface of Green with Grid, anticipating Ryman's subsequent compositions that visually realize dynamic ranges of hues within the Ryman's all-white, reflective surfaces.
Ryman has relentlessly explored the lyricism of the individual mark, making painterly gesture all the more potent in the spare material of white paint. In concentrating on the material substance of painting as both the form and subject of his work, he has created aesthetically powerful and meditative works of art. As Ryman explained, "Almost from the beginning I have approached painting intuitively. The use of white in my paintings came about when I realized that it doesn't interfere. It is a neutral color that allows for clarification of nuances in painting. I would say that the poetry of painting has to do with feeling. It should be a kind of revelation, even a reverent experience" (R. Ryman quoted in K. Stiles and P. Seltz, Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, Berkeley, 1996, pp. 607-608).