Robert Ryman (b.1930) is one of the great contemporary American painters best known for his monochromatic minimalist paintings. His work serves as a great introduction to modern art for those collectors just putting their toe into the water. Ryman’s works have textural boldness and a great commanding presence, but because of his almost universal use of white tones, his work is “comfortable” and easy to live with and it’s the type of painting that perfectly fits into any type of art collection.
I was recently at the home of a client and noticed that she had two stunning stark white works hanging in tandem on her wall. They exhibited an attractive use of brushstrokes with only the texture of the paint (impasto) on the canvas to give them depth, yet they spoke volumes and instantly engaged me. When the client told me they were Rymans she had owned since the 1960s, I took note. It wasn’t until a week later at a Sotheby’s private viewing for the Masterpieces from the Mellon Collection that I saw two much larger works by Ryman and remembered her pieces. Doesn’t that always happen? You find an artist you like and then start tripping over their work everywhere you turn!
Ryman clearly always had a calling to be an artist. After moving from Nashville to New York City in 1953, he took a job at MOMA where he met other contemporary American painters like Sol LeWitt and Dan Flavin who at the time also worked at the museum. He belongs to the artistic tradition that grew out of the abstract expressionism of Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. Within Ryman’s work you find a variety of compositions painted on everything from canvas, metal, burlap and newsprint. His techniques in applying paint to canvas create the entire experience of his work: sometimes short brushstrokes evoke a frenzied movement, while other times a thick encaustic application of paint gives the canvas a lush decadent feel of excess.
We have been blessed in the 20th century to have such a plethora of fine contemporary American painters. When looking back over the last 50 or 75 years, few can deny that New York has been the leading center of world art. Maybe not as well known as some of his contemporaries, the work of Robert Ryman deserves another look because it helps to complete the story of American 20th century art.
Richard Rabel is a New York Interior Designer and Principal at Richard Rabel: Interiors+ Art, a design studio offering residential design, decorating and art advising services.
image credits: Robert Ryman. The artist is represented by the Pace Gallery, New York.