New York

Edwin Ruda

How quickly reputations are made and remade. Edwin Ruda, for example, was a ranking figure of geometrically-based Minimalism. In this capacity he contributed not only some of the better work to Lawrence Alloway’s important exhibition, “Systemic Painting” (held at the Guggenheim Museum in 1966) but also some of its tersest and firmest commentary: “. . . simplification is not synonymous with boredom but on the contrary demands visual acuity.” From sharply-angled lozenges set up in cat’s-cradle configurations, Ruda moved into more open sprayed aluminum constructions. This shift was accompanied by a rejection of purely symmetrical necessities although he had earlier made the sibylline observation that, “Right and left symmetry are more opposite than alike.”

In the past eighteen months or so, Ruda entered a period of withdrawal and possibly of hesitation from which he emerged a color field painter. In a broad view of the past two years it is evident that Ruda’s transformation can hardly be regarded as an isolated instance. Many figures associated with Minimalism—in fact its chief figures—have recently undergone periods of intense reexamination of Minimalist precepts (which is to say, their own psychic structures) and have emerged from what can only have been a harrowing self-immersion with results not dissimilar to those achieved by Ruda. Such radical shifts of sensibility mean that private psychic necessities were involved (although they cannot be examined here) as well as the organic, piece-to-piece development of the artist’s individual oeuvre.

Aspects of Ruda’s former style remain. There is still ambitious scale; and, too, there is also the symmetry, although in a new painterly manner in which overlappings and loose usage tend to disguise or discourage this reading. The new paintings, large canvases worked in running and generally limpid acrylics, tend to exploit properties of transparency and bleeding, especially in the most recently executed works. And of these, the very last pieces suggest that Ruda may be tending toward the use of greater mixtures of bleeding and improvisation. In short, he may be coming to rely on a harsher malerischkeit, on thicker surface and more variegated impasto. The general drift of color field painting tends to avoid surface build-up, so that the raised and blotched left-hand side of Jack’s Castle is quite striking and must be linked in its effect to Larry Poons’ recent paintings and possibly even to such “sculptural” exercises as Lynda Benglis’s thrown latex mats. Perhaps the most apposite similarity is visible in the stunning new paintings of Ronnie Landfield whose pictures contrast tossed thick fat bands of acrylic paint against immense, thinly washed fields. By this I infer no influence one on the other; I mean only that in such passages we see several kinds of work which tend to similar solutions of surface. Earlier Clement Greenberg had called such surfacing “furtive bas-relief,” by which term he described a negative quality linked to the vestigial representationalism to be found in European painting, most particularly in Dubuffet, Fautrier and de Staël. In Ruda’s new painting such surfacing occurs almost accidentally; in recent Poons it appears to be the central episode. It seems that Ruda’s new paintings ally him with a new front of young color field painters, a tendency which, en masse, appears to be both stronger and bigger than the work of any single exponent. And, I wonder, after the successes of Louis, Frankenthaler and Olitski, whether an era of “Tenth Street Touch” hasn’t opened in terms of a second generation of post-Painterly Abstractionists. Or, if not, whether a wholly new conception of what constitutes the field of field painting is in the process of emerging. Unquestionably, the thick field seems the most vital option open to young painters who wish to remain committed to the evolution of field painting.

Robert Pincus-Witten