Robert Ryman & Agnes Martin

Robert Ryman:

Interested in the nature of painting itself, Ryman is known for his monochromatic, white-on-white works, exploring surface, support, medium, placement before the viewer, and colour. He chooses each aspect of his works carefully; he considers the size and shape of each brush and the mark it will make, the thickness of a stretcher, and each fixture used to hang the work.


Although considered a painter, could Ryman’s attention to the fixtures used to hang his works, turn them from being painted surfaces, into sculptural forms, therefore becoming objects?

Each alteration he makes is an exploration, believing that painting constantly needs to be changed and experimented with. This has resulted in almost a fixation with exploring ‘whiteness’; he has repeated a very similar set of aesthetics many, many times.


Agnes Martin:

Martin became known for her square canvasses, meticulously rendered grids and repeat stripes. Martin thought of her works as studies in the pursuit of perfection. She believed that spiritual inspiration and not intellect created great work. She said, ‘Without awareness of beauty, innocence and happiness one cannot make works of art’. Her works are all about experience, on the part of both the artist and the observer.


Martin’s works have a kind of fragility: the tough fragility of an eggshell. Although made with strict precision, usually of parallel lines or short dashes, perfectly spaced to form a regular pattern, each work is unique and distinct. Martin’s Lines often come together to form delicate grids. English art critic Lawrence Alloway found Martin’s grids,

half-way between a rectangular system of coordinates and a veil… Martin’s seamless surface signifies, for all its linear precision, an image dissolving. The uninflected radiant fields are without the formal priorities of figure and field or hierarchic ranking of forms, and the skinny grids are set in monochrome colours that make visible the shifting gradients of real light across the painting. The effect is of precision and elusiveness at once.” (pp.94-95)

Strickland, E. (1993). Minimalism: Origins. American University Press.

The repetitive lines and square form of these works remind me of my final pieces from last year. I focused on the lines/creases made by scrunching paper. I scrunched 100 pieces of paper and drew over one of the creases which crossed the paper from top to bottom. Then transferred and enlarged those lines, layering them to create another drawing showing the relationship between random creases. The scrunching was a way for me to separate myself from the drawing process.




I have linked Ryman and Martin together due to their similar aesthetic qualities. But although both Ryman and Martin’s works can be simply identified as pale two-dimensional squares, their intentions are quite different. I can recognise within my longing to explore textiles, Ryman’s obsession with his chosen material. Ryman’s use of white allows for more discernable tones and shadows on his textured surfaces. Moving forward, I will explore Ryman’s choice of colour. It is Martin’s precision and delicacy, in the constructs her grids, which I find beautiful. They are exquisitely formed repetitive patterns – could such precision be achieved, in the construction of a textile object?



Author: Crisiant Williams

I am a Fine Art student, studying at Cardiff School of Art and Design.

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