Robert Ryman

Biography of Robert Ryman

Robert Ryman (b. 1930) is amongst the most influential American artists of the past century. He has engaged with minimalist and abstract expressionist tendencies throughout his lifetime, but defined his own route independently to these movements, with material and light being at the core of his practice. In his own words, it is not about “what to paint but only about how to paint”. Ryman has explored the various possible uses of the most elementary components in art-making: paint, ink, paper, canvas, cardboard and metal have been re-worked into multitudes of outcomes to realize their versatile visual potentials. In Ryman’s work, these materials are the essence of the art, rather than being merely backdrops and surfaces on which images can be presented.


Early in his career, Robert Ryman began experimenting not just with how to use different materials, but also with the way they could then be displayed, rotating them into unusual angles and attaching them to the walls with tape or metal clamps. He has continuously sought new ways to draw his audience’s attention to the materiality of what we are looking at. For this reason too, the majority of Robert Ryman’s works are white—the pure simplicity allowing the viewer to fully concentrate on the textures and forms at play.


The rich array of techniques that print-making offers for working with paper have made it an important medium for Robert Ryman. Etching, aquatint and relief printing in particular are central to his oeuvre, and offer him a means of further developing subtle variations.


Robert Ryman has had over 100 solo exhibitions in his lifetime, including at many of the most prestigious museums such as the MoMA in NYC, the Tate in London, the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. He featured in the seminal minimalist and conceptual exhibitions “Systematic Painting” at the Guggenheim in 1966 and “When Attitudes Become Form” at the Kunsthalle Bern in 1967.

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