Robert Ryman - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 13, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, New York, gift of the artist, 1961
    Anthony Meier Fine Art, San Francisco, 2012

  • Catalogue Essay

    "It was a matter of making the surface very animated, giving it a lot of movement and activity. This was done not just with the brushwork and use of quite heavy paint, but with color which was subtly creeping through the white.” Robert Ryman, 1993

    Robert Ryman’s career has been marked by his rigorous investigation and exploration of the simple “reality” of visual form – the medium and the support, and how the two interact with one another. Both rigorous and radical, his entirely unique body of work is, above all, a celebration of the act of painting and of paint itself. Ryman has steadfastly focused on how it is that the various tools available to him can be manipulated and utilized in order to fully elucidate the immediacy of the medium. His is an art of unerring continuity which is grounded in the near systematic manner in which he has dissected and expounded the ability and proclivity of the artist to develop a particular style and body of work that is entirely his own. That is, in his near unwavering commitment to the square format and white medium, Ryman has constricted himself in such a way as to maintain a strict focus on that which concerns him most within artistic production. Starkly opposed to figural realism, his practice is founded on a complete absence of illusion and is qualified by his lifelong study of and experimentation with painting materials. A superb early example of this lifelong exploration, Untitled from 1959 belongs to a group of works executed between 1958 and 1962 in which the artist began to more concretely codify and establish the rigorous tenets of his mature style. In this early era, Ryman produced a series of small, brilliant works of white pigment upon bare, unstretched canvas, in which the surrounding edges were often left untouched revealing the true nature of the stratum itself. Within this intimate work, Ryman's highly restricted process is laid bare so that the artist's poignant gesture and expressive mark-making become the subject of the painting itself.During this formative period, Ryman was continuing to innovate with color, exploring its abilities to ground and highlight his explorations in the field of painting. However, in so doing, he continually found himself "painting out" the different hues with white, and eventually decided upon white as the only effective way to allow the inherent physical qualities of the paint – texture, density, light and reflectivity – to speak for themselves. This early exemplar wonderfully elucidates this winnowing process. Beneath the central square form are layers of intense blacks, deep cerulean blues and myrtle greens that push and pull their way through the luscious impasto of the white. At this stage of his career, Ryman was still working the paint with a loose and intentional imprecision in contrast with much of his later works with their more deliberate squiggles, lines and washes of white. The scraped underpainting here firmly establishes that the focus of this work is Ryman’s handling of the white as well as the relation of the paint to the canvas in such a way as had hardly ever been explored before. During these early years, Ryman was still making ample use of other colors within his compositions, and not simply as underpainted foundations, but as stand alone chromatic elements of the work. Here, Ryman engages the picture edge by placing a heavily worked vertical rectangle of the same myrtle green hue from the central element. Interestingly, this secondary compositional component is similarly underpainted this time with red, yellow, black, and white furthering his investigation into the nature of the relationship between medium and stratum.Typical to this era, Ryman incorporates the raw, unprimed areas of the bare linen canvas as a means to highlight and frame the gestural abstraction of the painted interior. Rather than stretching the linen upon a canvas frame, Ryman leaves the material untouched, as evidence of his painterly process. As critic Naomi Spector writes, "Everything visible counts with Ryman and everything about a work has been made to count visually." (N. Spector, "Robert Ryman at the Whitechapel," Robert Ryman, exh. cat., Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1977, p. 12)Since the mid-1950s Robert Ryman has engendered an idiosyncratic and pragmatic genre of realism: his lifelong study and experimentation with materials constitute the “real” subject and tools of his art. Indeed, Ryman’s work is informed by the physical properties inherent to his choice of materials – smoothness, absorbency, hardness, or texture – whether the support is canvas, wood, cardboard, fiberglass or metal. In limiting his palette to white, Ryman foregrounds the subtle permutations of neutrality. Ryman treats white as a color, affording a whole spectrum of tonal effects and degrees of gloss, ranging from cool to warm, transparent to impenetrable. Within the confines of such limitations, the artist’s practice has propagated a remarkably focused yet astonishingly diverse dialogue that explores the self-referential vocabulary and functionality of painting itself. Telescoping these essential concerns, the subtle impact of Untitled delivers an early and yet latently charged expression of Ryman’s utterly inimitable abstract investigation.


Ο ◆13


oil on unstretched cotton canvas
7 1/8 x 7 3/8 in. (18.1 x 18.7 cm)
Signed and dated "RRyman59" lower right; further signed "Ryman" on the reverse of the frame. This work will be listed as catalogue number 59.006 in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being organized by David Gray.

$700,000 - 1,000,000 

Sold for $965,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Stoffel
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1261

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Evening Sale 14 May 2015 7pm