Robert Ryman
USA, 1930
In one of his caustic paradoxes, Samuel Beckett, for whom Robert Ryman had done six aquatints in 1989 for one of his last texts, Nohow on, said: "It's daring isn't it? And, to crown it, it's figurative." An appreciation which no-one would be likely to repeat in the face of the endless succession of white or almost white paintings, generally square format, done on a wide variety of supports -from lino or cardboard to copper or vinyl fibre-, and a surface which can be shiny, matte, rough, or one on which the brushstroke shows its thickness and gesture, which make up the work of one of the essential painters of the second half of the twentieth century. More than "figurative", he is best described as the most "realist" of the painters who do paintings. Willis Domingo, critic of Arts Magazine, hit on the right definition of Ryman's artistic object and will throughout his life: "He has focused his attention," he wrote in 1971, "on getting paint, as a natural material endowed with a life of its own, to express that life." Ryman is a painter who learned directly from painting what his road would be. But his first artistic steps were in music, not the plastic arts. He arrived in New York in 1952; he played tenor sax and wanted to be a jazz musician. The hours he spent as a guard in the rooms of the Museum of Modern Art, one of his temporary jobs, which he nevertheless stayed in for seven years, accompanied by Dan Flavin and Sol LeWitt doing similar tasks, changed the course of his career. He showed his first works in the museum in 1958, but it was not until 1967 that he held his first individual exhibition at the Paul Bianchini Gallery in New York; it consisted of thirteen paintings on laminated steel. As recognised and highly regarded in Europe as in the USA, if not more so, his work has had an influence on both a radical transformation of the pictorial field and on many of the speculations and ideas of the Conceptual artists.
Mariano Navarro