New York

Ray Ring

Ward-Nasse Gallery

John Dewey, in Art as Experience, contends that anyone can enjoy flowers, but in order to truly appreciate them one must first be committed to understanding something about their complex nature, and eventually one can go on to enjoy an “esthetic experience.” Similarly, when I first saw Ray Ring’s paintings I felt compelled to decipher what appeared to be an extremely logical design in order to more clearly “appreciate” what I saw.

Most of the paintings in the exhibition consisted of small panels in which an abstract proposition was stated and then methodically carried through all its possible variations. This proposition took the shape of various small colored circles—I prefer calling them “rings” because of the irresistible allusion to the artist’s name. In the earlier works these rings varied only coloristically from panel to panel, but in the more recent spiraled paintings they differ also in their measured placement along the spiral line. In an untitled work from 1972–73 center-points are charted out on a rigid grid formation on each separate square panel. Small concentric rings drawn from these center points subtly change in hue as they progress, both vertically and horizontally, across the surface of each panel and across the surface of all the panels as a whole. This process continues until all permutations are exhaustedly illustrated, or until, as in the case of the spiral variations, space is used up on the circular canvas.

When confronted with the early stripe paintings of Frank Stella we were immediately struck with the force of their simple logic—the reflection of the canvas edge by parallel, equal-sized, repetitive bands. We lose this feeling of immediacy with Ring because of the overwhelming complexity of the design. The results are paintings that depend on the gimmickry of optical illusions and the manufactured look of a Vasarely. Ring’s works become increasingly more successful as he lessens the number of variables and deals with a design pattern that one can more easily figure out, and as Dewey would conclude—“appreciate.”

Francis Naumann