'A life in art is an unimaginable and unpredictable experience'
A pioneer of the Minimal and Conceptual movements of the post-war era, Sol LeWitt has influenced a broad community of artists, designers, writers and musicians since the early 1960s with his highly original thinking as well as his consistently elegant and resonant work. A rigorous minimalist with a playfulness that belies his sense of wit, the American artist's enduring body of work stretches across sculpture, painting, installation, drawing and printmaking. Ranging from his 1971 minimalist, linear ink on card work, Four Basic Colours, Yellow, Black, Red, Blue, And Their Combinations, to the 1999 dark ink-wash Horizontal Brushstrokes (More or Less), thissuite of six works, illustrates the development of the work one of the most genuinely groundbreaking artists of the 20th century across three decades.
Part of a generation of young artists such as Hanne Darboven, Joseph Kosuth, Lawrence Weiner, Robert Ryman and Dan Flavin, from the early 1960s LeWitt explored the radical position that art could be generated by ideas rather than emotions. In sympathy with predominant structuralist thinking, which posited meaning as a universal structure underlying the form, LeWitt recognised that although a work might have a fundamental logic, the resulting object would ultimately be unpredictable. He therefore composed all his work according to simple rules that could lend themselves to an infinite number of possibilities. Mobilizing the basic geometry that is the foundation for all potential structures, the fundamental structure of a grid is at the core of LeWitt's work. He referred to this visual language as 'grammar', systematically varying it like a vocabulary in the creation of each new artwork.
By reducing art to its essential components, LeWitt revolutionised its very definition, marking a radical departure from the aesthetic of the abstract expressionists that was predominant in post-war America. He articulated these genuinely groundbreaking ideas in a series of manifestos, the first of which was 'Paragraphs on Conceptual Art' (1967), which contained the maxim 'The idea becomes a machine that makes the art' (S. LeWitt, quoted in 'Paragraphs on Conceptual Art', Artforum Vol.5, no. 10, Summer 1967, pp. 79-83), which would remain a guiding tenet not only of LeWitt's work, but of the Conceptual art movement as a whole.
Each work in this grouping is a manifestation of LeWitt's radical conceptual thinking. As he articulated in 1967, 'If the artist carried through his idea and makes it into visible form, then all the steps in the process are of importance. The idea itself, even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product. All intervening steps, scribbles, sketches, drawings, failed work models, studies, thoughts, conversations are of interest. Those that show the thought process of the artist are sometimes more interesting than the final product.' (S. LeWitt, quoted in 'Paragraphs on Conceptual Art', Artforum Vol.5, no. 10, Summer 1967, pp. 79-83).
Executed in 1971, Four Basic Colours, Yellow, Black, Red, Blue, And Their Combinations is a design for the front cover of LeWitt's first book, published by Lisson Publications that year. Characteristic of the quality and openess that LeWitt insisted upon in his work, the cover states the premise of the book, with each square being an instruction for each of the sixteen pages. Books became an important part of LeWitt's practice, attributing them with the importance of artworks themselves, and an efficient and democratic way to communicate his ideas with many.
Similarly, the two worksdating from 1973, Folded Paper, were created in order to illustrate the accessibility of art and to reinforce the notion that, as the artist has said, 'the form only reinforces the concept. It is the idea that is being reproduced.' (S. LeWitt quoted in 'Sol LeWitt by Saul Ostrow', BOMB 85/Fall 2003, cited at
http://bombsite.com/issues/85/articles/2583 accessed 10th August 2013). Folding is a universal technique, a simple process to put thought into practice in a few, rapid steps. Each work in this series develops according to various possibilities from the basic unit of the square and the paper material. The surfaces of Folded Paper contain only the trace of a system, emphasising LeWitt's belief in the underlying idea rather than the final material product as the valuable product.
It was this belief that led to the development of LeWitt's celebrated wall drawings, a distinct and original tradition that began in1968. The meticulously realized Working Drawing for Wall Drawing #474 is the beginnings of a wall drawing, a simple diagram to be followed in executing the work in a gallery, in this case a walldrawing exhibited at John Weber Gallery in New York in 1986. Constituting a major break-through for LeWitt, the drawing's succinct beauty embody the way in which apparently straightforward instructions are able to result in work that has variety and aesthetic resonance.
Towards the latter half of his career LeWitt began to use ink washes and introduce more colours to his palette, resulting in rich, sensual paintings like Tilted Form (1988) and Horizontal Forms (More or Less), painted in 1999, that are both elegant and fresh. Asked about the introduction of free forms into his work in the 1980s, the artist replied 'Why not? A life in art is an unimaginable and unpredictable experience.' (S. LeWitt, cited at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/09/arts/design/09lewitt.html?pagewanted= all&_r=0, accessed 9th August 2013).