At the heart of Robert Ryman’s work is a concern with the materiality of painting and the viewer’s perception of the artwork in space.
He developed his practice in the mid-1950s, after settling in New York where he experienced the paintings of Abstract Expressionist artists such as Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. However, unlike these artists he chose to examine the act of painting and the materials used to do this, reducing his work to a simple equation of canvas or other support, and white or off-white paint. This concentration on the components of painting set Ryman apart from his contemporaries, and for much of his early career Ryman worked in isolation.
During the mid to late 1960s he began to integrate aspects of seriality into his work, a characteristic that is associated with minimalism and conceptualism, causing the artist's practice to be frequently assessed in terms of these movements. Within the strict parameters he sets himself, Ryman varies the type of support, type of paint and brushwork to explore the limitless possibilities involved pictorial creation. His aim is to engage the audience in the nuances of paint texture and how the manner in which an artwork is installed can alter its presence.
The fixtures and fittings of Ryman's paintings serve both a practical and aesthetic purpose and he exploits shadow and depth, texture and light by varying how close to the wall a painting is hung. Ryman has noted that, ‘Sometimes I use warm white because I wanted to have a warm absorbing light. At other times I’ve used colder white … it has to do with light – softness, hardness, reflection and movement – all these things' (quoted in Storr 1993, pp.16-17).
Ryman’s ten-part painting Untitled (Study for Brussels) that features in ARTIST ROOMS was made at the time of the artist’s solo exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-Arts Brussels in 1974. The work exemplifies the artist’s non-objective style in which the choice of white, support and visible fixings offer the possibility for unlimited experimentation.
Robert Storr, Robert Ryman, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery and The Museum of Modern Art, London and New York 1993.