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Robert Ryman in "Paradox"

Growing up in Nashville, Robert Ryman had a strong interest in music. A bebop musician in his youth, Ryman’s musical knowledge influenced his work as a painter. His approach to learning an instrument was applied to painting: “I thought the painting should just be about what it’s about…”

“In all of my paintings, I discover things,” says the artist, “Sometimes I’m surprised at the result, but I know what I’m doing.” Ryman does not use assistants and prefers to work alone. Using white paint on square forms, he creates works such as Philadelphia Prototype, highlighting the subtle nuances of a surface and exploring the role that context and perception play in a visual experience.

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Robert Ryman

Robert Ryman’s work explodes the classical distinctions between art as object and as surface—between sculpture and painting, between structure and ornament—emphasizing instead the role that perception and context play in creating an aesthetic experience. Ryman isolates the most basic of components (material, scale, and support), enforcing limitations that allow the viewer to focus on the physical presence of the work in space. Since the 1950s, Ryman has used primarily white paint on a square surface while harnessing the nuanced effects of light and shadow to animate his work. Neither abstract nor entirely monochromatic, Ryman’s paintings are paradoxically “realist” according to the artist’s own lexicon.

“I thought the painting should just be about what it’s about… In all of my paintings, I discover things. Sometimes I’m surprised at the result, but I know what I’m doing.”

Robert Ryman

Robert Ryman discusses the reasoning behind his white squares, as well as the roles that a painting’s surface and viewers play in his work.

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