Robert Ryman at Dia:Chelsea


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’.


Keith Tyson paintings at Pace, London


Keith Tyson’s recent paintings in the exhibition Panta Rhei , translates from Ancient Greek as ‘everything flows’.  Pace gallery is behind the Royal Academy of Arts in Burlington Gardens, W1S 3ET.  Exhibition is on until 28 March.

From his statement in the exhibition:

‘the field..for me, is the myriad of networks – whether physical, conceptual or emotional – that make the present moment.  All these systems combined form our interdependent world…’
He describes the paintings as visual poems and builds ‘complex surfaces formed of two or more images sharing a connection’.

further info on

Frank Bowling’s Poured Paintings at Tate Britain, London

Drop, Roll, Slide, Drip…This unusual title gives the viewer a clue as to the content of Bowling’s paintings with his now familiar palette of hot pinks and oranges.  He was influenced by his time in New York in the sixties where he encountered Abstract Expressionist paintings and went on to make these poured paintings during the 1970s.

Bowling set out to fill the centre of the canvas with poured paint at a time when there was an interest in process painting – painting about the paint itself.  The works on display show what paint does as it runs, mixes and pools. The artist’s control is limited; Bowling poured different colours down a tilted canvas.  The paint produced interesting, but fairly predictable effects.

I wonder about later drip paintings (for example, Ian Davenport). The puddles of powdery paint on Bowling’s canvases also remind me of the explosive effects in John Hoyland’s paintings.  I think painting that uses the properties of paint has been done in a more interesting way recently through the work of Alexis Harding.

Vija Celmins at Tate Britain, London

Vija Celmins (born 1938) uses found images for her drawings and prints. Two adjoining rooms within the Turner collection in the Clore building at Tate Britain present Celmins alongside her own selection of Turner prints and small watercolour paintings.

One room is an exhibition space for Celmins’ drawings and prints on paper, whose subject matter is constellations of stars, sea and desertscapes and delicate cobwebs such as Web Ladder (2010). The drawings of starry skies are erased into charcoal giving a softness of surface, while the sea and desert prints resemble photographs in their clarity. Many of the images suggest the infinite, while at other times Celmins juxtaposes a print of a tree with a moon or starscape as in Untitled (Tree and Sky) and Untitled (Sequoia and Moon), both mezzotints (1985). The drawings and prints are also presented in limited edition books alongside poems or commissioned texts.

There are multiple print processes on display:

woodcut (a print with the original wood block), lithography, mezzotint, drypoint, etching (with sugarlift and drypoint), photogravure (with burnishing, scraping and drypoint), photoetching (with aquatint, photogravure and drypoint), aquatint (with burnishing and drypoint).

In drawing there is:

charcoal (removal creates the image) and graphite on acrylic ground.

Celmins’ work is almost photographic in appearance and scale, and as captivating as looking at old photos. Comparing herself to Turner, she remarks on the stillness of her work which contrasts with his more gestural work. However, she suggests they share a love of the physicality of materials. She speaks of the ‘impossible image’, capturing a wilderness on a small piece of paper, and believes she shares with Turner the necessity to observe and describe the world. Her selection of Turner paintings (JMW Turner 1775-1851) are small watercolour works on paper and in sketchbooks. These mainly comprise clouds, sea and sky – although the thin washes of paint on some paintings are merely a residue of paint covering the entirety of the surface, so that the paper appears a pinkish brown, with very little to describe the landscape except a watery translucent stain. In Crimson Clouds (c.1820-30) the pale wash is disturbed only by a few distinctive brushmarks of crimson. In other tranquil works the thin wash creeps to the border of the painting or saturates the edges of the paper.

Both Celmins and her selection of Turner’s works are captivating and worth going to take a look. On display at Tate Britain through January and February 2013.

Soft Grey

At the end of May I went to see an exhibition of paintings by artist William McKeown at Inverleith House at the Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh.  The paintings were hung by Callum Innes in the light and spacious rooms on the upper floor.  In the lower gallery was Agnes Martin’s film Gabriel.  When I entered on the ground floor there was a collection of old photographs of trees, with dissolved areas of sky caused by deterioration of the images over time.

William McKeown’s paintings are painted in a palette of pale greys, blues and green.  Can you imagine taking a piece of sky and painting a dark brownish brushstroke along its upper and lower limits and then further brushstrokes at each side to contain it?  The roughly brushed lines do not meet at the corners, but are just enough to prevent the sky from floating away.  His paintings are like a soft mist.  Some are very large – you could float into them.  Some are small and have a bright patch of colour along the lower edge.  They invite you into their enveloping mist.

If you move from the first room into the second and turn to look back through the doorway, there is a magical moment that occurs through their careful placement.  Hanging beside the doorway in the second room is a small soft grey painting.  It is similar to the large painting that you can see through the doorway – a small mirror image.  Now the large painting has changed with the distant viewing, as it does with the changing light that comes in through the long windows.  Reflected softness.

The paintings pull you back and into their interior.  More paintings, then a small pale green painting hangs between two windows.  You cannot help but move from the green contained in it to an adjacent window to look out at the trees and grass in the gardens outside and then back again.  The positioning invites this to and fro movement; pale green haze to trees and grass.  It is hard to leave and I return later.

The next morning I find that same grey mist.  On a rainy day, walking across Holyrood Park to visit an artist friend who lives in the city I pause to turn and look at the rocky peak of Arthur’s Seat and there, enclosing its upper part is the soft grey mist.  Below it lies the fresh green of grass and trees.  No sky, just soft grey.


Over coffee we talk about my friend’s paintings and those at Inverleith House.  As I am about to leave, to walk back across the park, he stops me to show me some other small paintings he has been making.  Small squares have been masked off on watercolour paper.  They were painted a neutral brown tone and then several layers of thin white gesso with a soft flat brush.  When the tape was pulled back, a soft mottled grey remained with a bleeding dark edge.  As a parting gift I am given my own soft grey painting, which I take back across the park and onto the train out of the rain-soaked city.