Robert Ryman at Dia:Chelsea

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Robert Ryman, Catalyst lll 1985

An exhibition showing a wide range of Robert Ryman’s paintings occupies two large gallery spaces at Dia:Chelsea in New York. My visit to look at his beautiful work was on a grey and freezing wintery day in February. Vittorio Colaizzi quotes Ryman in an essay that introduces a collection of critical writings concerning his art, Ryman: ‘Painters paint in all kinds of ways, but I think that all painting is about enlightenment and delight and wonder’. (Originally published in Robert Ryman, ‘On Painting’, in Christel Sauer and Urs Rasmuller, 1991). In an interview with Ryman in September 2002, the artist who was then approaching his eightieth birthday, described a collector placing one of his paintings in the dark hallway of his home. Deprived of the light and space it needed, Ryman reflected ‘But it’s odd that they seemingly like the painting but yet they don’t understand what it is. Or how it works.’ (Robert Ryman, Critical texts since 1967, ed. Vittorio Colaizzi and Karsten Schubert, Ridinghouse, 2009: 20).
His paintings intrigue me in that on the one hand when faced with walls of mostly white paintings I experience quietude, but when drawing close I am fascinated by the marks and surfaces and his seemingly endless capacity for experimentation. In the Dia show I was particularly drawn to one work, so much so that after leaving the gallery I went back after a while to look again. This work seemed to me to be perfect in its simplicity and slight detail. After an earlier showing of Catalyst III (1985), Ryman spoke of this work, which is an aluminium support held to the wall by four bolts:
‘It’s one of my favourite drawings, that was shown at the Modern, in Bernice’s show (MOMA, New York). It’s not very large 23 x 23 inches, but it’s probably my favourite drawing. It’s just one of these things that is so amazingly simple, but it’s very complex and everything works…What you’re not seeing in the photograph is this line [the aluminium edge of the drawing]. It’s just the line of the metal, but it’s there and it’s important’.

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Sharon Phelps: recent work on paper

Sharon6The ‘Constructions’ series made in 2013 consists of taped and glued paper; compositions arrived at by a process of reconfiguration and editing – they are residues of the process of making. Folded, torn and cut, they are selected and positioned. A dialogue takes place between the works in progress as sections are removed, interchanged and layered. This process is not hidden from the viewer, who is able to re-interpret the narrative of the making procedures.

These compositions do not refer to anything that exists in the real world. Loosely based on the grid and the possibilities it offers for re-invention, they move beyond tight geometric forms to play with our perception of scale and our understanding of where the edges may be. Small compositions sit within larger pieces. The eye picks up primary elements quickly, but is rewarded by prolonged looking as smaller or slighter details become apparent. It is hoped that the meditative nature of making the work is communicated to the viewer. Sharon3

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Joanna Phelps

Joanna18There is a strong sense of theatricality in Joanna Phelps’ drawings and paintings. Elements are suspended or balanced within a vertiginous space; often at tipping point or actually falling. The compositions are playful and are a celebration of colour. Recurring motifs in the paintings include small dots of colour that heap and spill like juggling balls, piano keys, kites and multi-coloured twisted threads or ropes. The coloured dots could also be a myriad of small lights. Odd shapes behave like anchors in the picture plane, keeping the tilted compositions in place. There is often a feeling of implied movement, in spaces where the viewer is left reeling and trying to find stability. Floors are never completely horizontal – small rooms hold furniture which could slide away. As if entering a wonky house in a funfair, the viewer feels their way through the space in a strange trajectory while grasping any fixed points if they exist.

Drawing inspiration from diverse sources that include curtained stages and performances by the circus troupe Cirque de Soleil, it is hard to find artists to whom this work relates. Yet it can be encountered in the finely balanced sculptural and filmic compositions of Marijke van Warmerdam and the colourful abstract paintings of Thomas Nozkowski. Although not emulating them in any way, associations can be made between Joanna’s lines of thought and the playfulness and delicately balanced elements in those works. The stage sets could equally be imaginary places. Joanna references Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities’, in which a city such as ‘Diomira’ has “sixty silver domes” and “multi-coloured lamps…lighted all at once”. Having graduated from the Royal Academy School of Arts, London in 2008, Joanna has shown her paintings in the UK and internationally.
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