Richard Tuttle

In Richard Tuttle’s “According to the Dawn II,” 1992, one can clearly read the complex process that unfolds when a vague sensation is transferred onto a two-dimensional surface. The 12 monumental drawings in graphite and charcoal on paper are pasted onto stretched canvases. Wedged between the stretcher and the wall, a piece of cardboard, peeping out several millimeters on all four sides, constitutes a sort of frame behind the canvas. Every paper surface is subdivided into a grid of more or less regular pencil lines, interwoven with charcoal marks as plain as droplets on a windowpane. The lineation suggests spatial and temporal continuity, while the marks seem to register a unique event, a momentary impulse.

During the first few days of the show, the cardboard peering out from behind the canvases was covered with loose white paper. But, like Turner or Bonnard, who retouched their paintings even when they were already hanging in museums, Tuttle appears to think of his work as a slippery fluid that keeps gliding away from him, and that he keeps trying to catch. So, after a few days, Tuttle removed the paper sheets and covered the cardboard pieces with canvas. The effect of this minute alteration was striking. Instead of sailing across the wall on the wavy, white, cloudlike paper frames, the drawings were united with the gallery architecture by their solid backing. At the same time, the cardboard frame confined the frail space quivering in the drawings and became a magical border area, where the unformed is visualized.

When we examine Tuttle’s frugal way of entrusting his drawing notes to the flimsiest little slips of paper, his solicitous way of consolidating and emotionally charging these unstable supports layer by layer, we are reminded of Paul Klee. As in Klee’s work, Tuttle’s investigations into the genesis of a picture are always fundamental questions about the origins of the universe. He refers to his drawings as “a kind of laboratory to find out how something stays on the wall, how we stay in the world.”

A related group of works, “According to the Dawn III,” 1992, was at the Kunstmuseum Winterthur. Twenty-five color drawings and collages were added for the Swiss venue. As in “According to the Dawn II,” white, rectangular sheets of paper, covered with pencil grids, pasted on canvases and mounted on stretchers, formed the basis of these multicolor pieces. Tuttle placed them at various levels on the cloth-covered museum walls. He then framed each piece in pencil. Although these pencil lines were extremely thin, they lent a striking presence and authority to the work. Equally effective was the perhaps even more discreet transformation of the common white glass vitrines in which drawings and publications were shown: the artist painted the legs black and then pasted small torn-out paper circles on them. As if guided by a magnifying glass, our attention was focused on the innocuous furniture, whose very presence and participation in a stable, seemingly immovable reality was challenged.

With nonhierarchical attention, Tuttle also devoted himself to the surface of the paper, its mounting and placement on the wall. Like Robert Mangold in his most recent paintings, Tuttle strives for a depth effect without relapsing into illusionism. His analysis of the surface is also an analysis of the picture’s inner structure. He continues his expeditions into vagueness where discoveries are still possible and where only our sharpened attentiveness prevents us from stumbling in the dark.

Claudia Jolles

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.