Notes on Robert Ryman

White has a tendency to make things visible. With white, you can see more of a nuance; you can see more.
… it was just that white could do things that other colors could not do. If I look at some white panels in my studio, I see the white—but I am not conscious of them being white. They react with the wood, the color, the light, and with the wall itself. They become something other than just the color white. That’s the way I think of it. It allows things to be done that ordinarily you couldn’t see.

If the panels were black or blue or red, they would become a different thing. You would see the color, and the panels would become more object-like themselves and more about that color. But white is such a neutral situation that, when you see it, you’re not thinking “white.” You’re just able to see something as what it is.

The square? I began with that in the 1950s. The square has always just been an equal-sided space that I could work with. Somehow it’s become so natural to me that I just don’t think of it any other way. It doesn’t have the feeling of a landscape or some kind of window or doorway that we usually associate with rectangles. It’s just a very neutral kind of space, and it seems to feel right to me because of my approach to painting.

It has to do with the way we see things. Aesthetically we see things in a certain way. I like odd numbers because you always have a center with an odd number. With an odd number, you have an expansive feeling—a feeling of things moving out from the sides. With an even number, you have the wall as the center, so it’s more of an enclosed feeling. It doesn’t move outward as much as the odd number does—which is also okay. But certain things have different feelings, visually. If I have something that has ten elements, it’s not so crucial, because I have enough that I don’t really need a center. A triptych is ideal because you have a center. A diptych is always a problem; they never seem to work very well. It’s just the way we see things.

Taken from

He resists the idea that his work is abstract, saying “I don’t abstract from anything. [My work is] involved with real visual aspects of what you really are looking at, whether it’s wood, or you see the paint, and the metal, and how it’s put together and how it works with the wall and how it works with the light.”4
He also resisted attempts to place him into a specific box or frame within the greater art world. “I’m not involved with any kind of art movement. I’m not a scholar, I’m not a historian. I just look at it as solving problems and working on the painting and the visual experience.”5 There is no attempt at illusion; the paintings are not “about” anything other than what’s right before your eyes. What you see is what you get – nothing more, nothing less.

Used Paint by Suzanne P. Hudson
Taken from


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