Robert Ryman
Guild 1982

Artwork details

Robert Ryman born 1930
Date 1982
Medium Enamelac paint on fibreglass, aluminium and wood
Dimensions Support: 982 x 918 x 38 mm
Acquisition Presented by Janet Wolfson de Botton 1996
Not on display


Guild is a rectangular abstract painting that features multiple thin layers of white paint applied to a composite panel. The support comprises an aluminium honeycomb sheet that is sandwiched between two thin fibreglass panels and edged with redwood, although this edge is mostly invisible across the top and bottom of the work, where the wood is largely covered by the paint. Where visible, all four wooden strips have a long band of white paint running all or most of the way along their inner edges where they intersect with the central white portion of the work. Running horizontally across the work’s top and bottom edges are two aluminium brackets with burnished finishes, and these are attached to the wall by two metal screws, such that they project the work out slightly into the gallery space. Although the paint was applied in a single colour to achieve a mostly blank white composition, there are noticeable differences in hue across its surface due to variations in paint thickness and because the greenish-grey colour of the fibreglass shows through in areas where there are fewer layers of paint. The shifting direction of the brushstrokes also produces varying levels of gloss across the surface.

This work was made by the American artist Robert Ryman in 1982. The panel was produced for Ryman by Fine Art Stretchers and Services Inc. in Brooklyn, New York, and all parts of the support are glued together, most likely using epoxy resin. The brackets are coated with a silicone lacquer metal protector and attached to the redwood strips by metal screws. Without priming the panel, Ryman applied the white Enamelac paint onto it using a brush.

The painting’s appearance has no clear connection with its title, Guild – a word that is used to describe a group of artisans that specialise in a particular craft. Regarding his approach to titles in general, Ryman claimed in 1993 that they ‘have no representational meaning, they are a means of identification … I try to choose words that can’t be associated with very much … They are more names than titles’ (Ryman in David Batchelor, ‘On Paintings and Pictures: In Conversation with Robert Ryman’, Frieze, no.10, May 1993,, accessed 27 July 2015).

Guild is one of a small group of works, the precise number of which is unknown, that were produced between 1981 and 1983, all of which feature white Enamelac paint applied to composite fibreglass and aluminium panels that are held slightly off the wall by aluminium brackets (see also Ledger 1982, Tate T03550). Due to the strong emphasis placed on their physical supports, the critic and curator Robert Storr has situated these works within a strand of Ryman’s practice dating back to 1976 when, in works such as Embassy I 1976 (private collection), he began to incorporate the fasteners that attached his paintings to the walls into their overall composition (Robert Storr, ‘Simple Gifts’, in Tate Gallery 1993, pp.23–4). Storr has also argued that these works establish a contradictory dynamic between the physical ‘bulk’ of the panels, ‘which seem hard and overbuilt at first glance’, and various more delicate visual effects including ‘the shimmer of light on the brushed metal, the glaucous glow of the fibreglass and the wavering Enamelac ribbon that meanders along the squares’ outer edges’ (Storr 1993, p.24).

Ryman has produced a large number of white paintings since the mid-1960s (see also Untitled 1965, private collection). The collector Christel Sauer has argued that Ryman uses white frequently because it ‘allows the most subtle of nuances in the application of the paint, the brush-strokes and the combination of paint and support to become visible because of its extreme ability to react with light … And it does not tie him to “achromaticity” or a “monochromaticity” because its interaction with different supports, shimmering through as unpainted material or as a background primed in various hues, creates highly differentiated chromatic effects’ (Christel Sauer, ‘Robert Ryman, Painter’, in Espace d’Art Contemporain 1991, pp.22–3). Such an interaction between the white paint and the colours of the support can be seen in Guild. More broadly, in 1993 Ryman claimed that his work is primarily concerned with ‘using real light on real surfaces, rather than creating an internal illusion of light … The light in the painting, so to speak, is accomplished by the different surfaces and how real light acts upon those surfaces. In some cases the surfaces are very soft and quiet and absorb the light; in others, light is reflected off certain parts of the painting, or off the fasteners, while it is absorbed in other parts’ (Ryman in Batchelor 1993, accessed 27 July 2015).

Further reading
Robert Ryman, exhibition catalogue, Espace d’Art Contemporain, Paris 1991.
Robert Ryman, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1993, pp.172–3.
Stephen L. Kaplan, ‘Review: Robert Ryman: Bonnier Gallery, 1983’, in Robert Ryman: Critical Texts since 1967, London 2009, pp.176–7.

David Hodge
July 2015

Supported by Christie’s.