PRINT April 2019



HAVE YOU EVER walked into a darkened room only to find that, once your eyes adjusted to the light, there was much to discover? Long ago, I wrote this about a particular Ryman painting, yet it is a feeling at the heart of what makes all of his artwork so remarkable. Often described as simply squares of white paint of various textures, Ryman’s paintings suggest a narrow focus. That focus, however, allows our attention to be more acute and sharpened, and what is actually offered is far from straightforward. What might at first seem simple turns out to be complex.  

Ryman’s art is one of practical invention of the highest order, in the service of making a quality of mind visible. Often his studio contained a trove of various industrial clips, new kinds of plastic sheeting, or samples of metal panels, and sometimes these items found their way into finished artworks along with painted surfaces, sometimes not. Ryman employed these bits and pieces of hardware and supports in the service of the overall composition. His was an intensely personal solo performance, and his studio was a very private world where this magic took place within the givens of his practice.

The Ryman I knew was an honest workman, a plainspoken person who made paintings and was interested in the ways different materials could bring these works to life on the wall. Not one for art talk, he would discuss edges or attachments or some other topic of down-to-earth concern that interested him at the moment. He knew his art history, and he knew the art world’s ins and outs. But it always made sense to me that, before he was a painter, Ryman was a jazz musician, working in a discipline in which the abstract interplay of sound, the color and composition of a piece of music, comes from tone rather than hue. 

I valued him as an artist who loved his craft and took it seriously. As a result, he offered us uncompromising beauty, no tricks or falsehood. I feel fortunate to have had him as a friend. 

Amy Baker Sandback is a director of Artforum.