White Noise

Yesterday’s Monday Freebie question:

Q. Eve Sussman & The Rufus Corporation are currently in production on White on White – an adaptation of what artist’s infamous work?

The correct answer is Kazimir Malevich, attributed to The Rufus Corporation’s blog about White on White: a film noir. However, the closest answer for the freebie named Robert Ryman, which is a pretty good stab. Here are brief profiles on both artists:

Kazimir Malevich

White on White. 1918. Oil on canvas, 31 1/4 x 31 1/4" (79.4 x 79.4 cm). 1935 Acquisition confirmed in 1999 by agreement with the Estate of Kazimir Malevich and made possible with funds from the Mrs. John Hay Whitney Bequest
Kazimir Malevich. Suprematist Composition: White on White. 1918. Oil on canvas, 31 1/4 x 31 1/4

From the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Malevich described his aesthetic theory, known as Suprematism, as “the supremacy of pure feeling or perception in the pictorial arts.” He viewed the Russian Revolution as having paved the way for a new society in which materialism would eventually lead to spiritual freedom. This austere painting counts among the most radical paintings of its day, yet it is not impersonal; the trace of the artist’s hand is visible in the texture of the paint and the subtle variations of white. The imprecise outlines of the asymmetrical square generate a feeling of infinite space rather than definite borders.

Publication excerpt
The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 85

A white square floating weightlessly in a white field, Suprematist Composition: White on White was one of the most radical paintings of its day: a geometric abstraction without reference to external reality. Yet the picture is not impersonal: we see the artist’s hand in the texture of the paint, and in the subtle variations of the whites. The square is not exactly symmetrical, and its lines, imprecisely ruled, have a breathing quality, generating a feeling not of borders defining a shape but of a space without limits.

After the Revolution, Russian intellectuals hoped that human reason and modern technology would engineer a perfect society. Malevich was fascinated with technology, and particularly with the airplane, instrument of the human yearning to break the bounds of earth. He studied aerial photography, and wanted White on White to create a sense of floating and transcendence. White was for Malevich the color of infinity, and signified a realm of higher feeling.

For Malevich, that realm, a utopian world of pure form, was attainable only through nonobjective art. Indeed, he named his theory of art Suprematism to signify “the supremacy of pure feeling or perception in the pictorial arts”; and pure perception demanded that a picture’s forms “have nothing in common with nature.” Malevich imagined Suprematism as a universal language that would free viewers from the material world.

Robert Ryman

Surface Veil I, 1970. Oil and blue chalk on stretched linen canvas, 143 15/16 x 144 inches. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Panza Collection. 91.3851
Surface Veil I, 1970. Oil and blue chalk on stretched linen canvas, 143 15/16 x 144 inches. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Panza Collection. 91.3851

from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Throughout his career Robert Ryman has attempted to eliminate illusionism and outside references from his work, focusing instead on the fundamental properties of the materials he employs. He has confined himself to the color white, yet disclaims its importance. “It was never my intention to make white paintings,” he insisted in a 1986 interview. “The white is just a means of exposing other elements of the painting.” These “other elements” include varieties of paint (oil and acrylic) and supports (canvas, paper, and metals), as well as the process of binding them. He investigates the properties of these elements methodically, yet responds spontaneously to the unpredictable exigencies caused by their interaction.

…the so-called Surface Veil works were named for the brand of fiberglass upon which the smaller pieces in this group were painted. Surface Veil I, II, and III are among four 12-foot-square paintings from the series that were executed not on fiberglass but on cotton or linen. In each of these works the pigment appears to form a membrane over the support due to the differing degrees of opacity and translucence in the white paint juxtaposed with areas where less of it has been applied, leaving the fabric exposed. These disruptions in the painting’s skin often mark the literal pauses between the artist’s working sessions.

Jeppe Hein, Ice Cube, 2005. Image courtesy of Johann Koenig, Berlin.
Jeppe Hein, Ice Cube, 2005. Image courtesy of Johann Koenig, Berlin.

Interestingly, the Seattle P-I’s Regina Hackett on her Art To Go blog, compared the work of Jeppe Hein with Robert Ryman. Berlin-based artist Jeppe Hein was featured in two Western Bridge shows, Insubstantial Pageant Faded in 2007 with Ice Cube (2005) and You Complete Me in 2008. He will be in Seattle again in January as the artist behind The Henry Ball See-Listen-Taste-Feel and has been commissioned to create a new public artwork at 4Culture‘s offices in Pioneer Square.

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