This work will be listed as catalogue number 62.037 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, pp. 59-65).
Untitled is a superlative example of the rigorous intellectual interrogation and rich aesthetic offered by the best examples of Robert Ryman's unique style of painting. Painted in 1962-1963 during the period in which Ryman's pure aesthetic and rich textural brushwork was beginning to emerge as his signature style, Untitled offers a superb example of the disciplined approach to his explorations into the structure of painting. Ryman reduces his paintings to the most essential elements; paint, support and how the two are combined. The raw texture of the support, the generous impasto, and the subtle tones of white pigment interspersed with flashes of vivid green and warm ochers combine to produce a jewel-like work of stunning visual intensity.
Ryman's career is distinguished by its intellectual rigor, and in order to focus his complete attention on his interrogations into the practice of putting paint on canvas, he placed a number of clearly defined parameters on himself. The present work's square format and predominantly monochrome canvas ensures that Untitled falls resolutely within these boundaries. For Ryman, the square format, with its inherent sense of balance, was important as it did away with the need for the artist to assign pictorial order. Ryman's use of the monochrome palette is one of the most striking features of his canvases. Rejecting tradition ideas of paint acting as a signifier, Ryman removed all traces of colored pigment to leave a surface that is focuses on the inherent physical qualities of the paint - texture, density, light and reflectivity. Constructed of short strokes applied with supple ease and fluidity, typical in his works from this period, in which he investigated the different aesthetic effects of different types of brushes and lengths of strokes. Untitled's high peaks and deep valleys of impasto create an opulent and diverse texture in which light and shadow tussle for attention and make the surface of the work dance with visual delight. This sense of activity is then enhanced by the selective flashes of fresh green and warm ochers that Ryman inserts sporadically across the surface of the work. In discussing his work during this period, Ryman recalled, "I found that I was eliminating a lot. I would put the color down, then paint over it, trying to get down a few crucial elements. It was like erasing something to put white over it" (R. Ryman quoted in N. Grimes,"White Magic," Art News, Summer 1986, p. 90).
Another crucial aspect of Ryman's work is his choice of support. The physical properties of the surface upon which he paints - the smoothness, degree of absorbency, hardness or texture - all play an important role in his realization of the final aesthetic. In Untitled, the rawness and color of the visible canvas is used to highlight the construction of the work. The reflective surfaces of the paint layer counteract the raw nature of the underlying canvas. The importance of these alternating textures is then confirmed by the border of untouched canvas which Ryman leaves around the edge of the work, acting like a halo that crowns the compositional elements within.
Robert Ryman's work is part of a new direction in the history of painting, straddling the boundaries of abstraction and representation. Traditionally these concepts were mutually exclusive, but Ryman broke down these rules and produces work which is neither abstract nor representative, as he once commented, "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 "realism" and described it thus, "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 asethetic, 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).
Robert Ryman grew up in Tennessee but moved to New York in the early 1950s to pursue a career in music. By the mid 1950s he had abandoned his dream of becoming a jazz musician and began to pursue a career in art. Completely self-taught, he would spend much of his time in art galleries studying the work of the rising stars of Abstract Expressionism and post-painterly abstraction. But unlike his peers he was less interested in the canvas as an 'action field' and was more interested in the function of painting, their physical effect on the viewers as an expression of painterly function.
In his formative works of 1960s such as Untitled, Ryman discovered the richness of his pared - down materials, spurring him to devote himself to white paint for the next five decades. 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 & P. Seltz (eds.), Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art , Berkeley, 1996, pp. 607-608).