Robert Ryman, great representative of minimaism, died on Friday 8 February at his home in New York. He was 88 years old.
The fascinating journey of Robert Ryman, a self-taught master, is a perfect embodiment of the American myth of the “self made man”: having arrived in New York with the idea of becoming a jazz musician, he is hired as a security guard at the MoMA where he makes friends with Sol LeWitt and Dan Flavin who will have a great influence on the development of his future research.
Among the halls of the museum, Ryman is passionate about art, particularly impressed by Kazimir Malevich and abstract expressionism by Mark Rothko, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Agnes Martin.
From them he takes inspiration when he starts painting in 1955, the year of his first monochrome painting “Untitled (Orange Painting)”, but it is only later that he will begin a systematic investigation insisting on the infinite potential that a single color – white – offers.
The variety of techniques used such as oil, acrylic, casein, tempera, gypsum and enamels, combined with an equally wide variety of supports such as metal, paper, linen and cotton combine to shape each time a different imprint, towards a spasmodic search for the expressive potential of color characterized by artisan quality and rough elegance.
The rigorous investigation of monochrome white on white painting by Robert Ryman nullifies the apparent simplicity of his paintings, aimed at representing infinite variations of painting as a subject in and of itself.
The artist has not always avoided the use of color that, especially at the beginning of his career, has been hidden under a more superficial layer of white, a recovery of the visible/invisible binomial that refers to an underlying reality that is not perceptible, the concept subsequently used also by other artists.
Robert Ryman, Untitled
The relationship between painting and light was at the center of the research that led Ryman to the conviction that every single detail contributes to the experience of the viewer and that each work interacts with the surrounding environment, especially with the wall (usually white) and with light.
Let us remember that in parallel also in Europe a revolutionary artistic movement was born with some similar needs, open to a radical change in the use of monochrome – often white, materials, interaction of lights and shadows: Gruppo Zero, a movement to which great Italian artists like Piero adhered Manzoni, Lucio Fontana and Enrico Castellani.
Piero Manzoni, Achrome
Robert Ryman had his first solo show in 1967 at the Bianchini Gallery in New York followed by an important Solo Show at the Guggenheim NY in 1972; has repeatedly participated in the Venice Biennials and the Whitney Biennals, as well as important solo and group exhibitions all over the world.
In 1993, exactly 40 years after being hired as a security guard, a large retrospective dedicated to the artist was organized at the MoMA.
“The real purpose of painting is to give pleasure”
“The shades of the art rainbow are endless: choose your favorite!”