I first came across Robert Ryman’s work on the PBS’s documentary series Art 21 – Art in the Twenty-First Century. He was featured in season 4’s episode Paradox. I have since had the chance to see and sit with his work in person at SFMOMA and am continually drawn to his surfaces. I think to many his work easily evokes the provocation “thats not art.” The idea that his work is “all just white paint” is missing the possibilities. He has striped his work down to the most basic elements of material, surface, structure and scale. The resulting works bring up questions about the distinctions between painting and sculpture, surface and ornamentation. How we perceive those things changes our aesthetic experance.
White has a tendency to make things visible. With white, you can see more of a nuance; you can see more. I’ve said before that, if you spill coffee on a white shirt, you can see the coffee very clearly. If you spill it on a dark shirt, you don’t see it as well. So, it wasn’t a matter of white, the color. I was not really interested in that. I started to cover up colors with white in the 1950s. It has only been recently, in 2004, that I did a series of white paintings in which I was actually painting the color white. Before that, I’d never really thought of white as being a color, in that sense.
– Robert Ryman