Catalogue entry

Robert Ryman born 1930

T03550 Ledger 1983

‘Enamelac' on a composite panel of glass-reinforced plastic, aluminium and wood 763 x 711 x 36 (30 1/16 x 28 x 1 5/8)
Inscribed on back 'RYMAN '82 "LEDGER"' along top
Purchased from the Mayor Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1983
Exh: Robert Ryman, Recent Paintings, Mayor Gallery, Nov.-Dec. 1983 (repr. on announcement card in col.)

The following entry is based principally on written answers by the artist, dated 27 February 1987, to questions posed by the compiler.

T03550 is one of a series of about nine paintings from the same period. It is predominantly white and is painted in ‘Enamelac', a trade name for what Ryman has described as ‘essentially pigmented shellac ... It produces a very hard, non-porous surface and the pigment is inert' (reply to questionnaire composed by the Department of Conservation). Beneath the plastic surface, commonly referred to as fibreglass, the work is edged with wood of a reddish hue which shows through the fibreglass where it is unpainted, thereby adding a yellowish colour to an otherwise white painting. The wood serves three purposes: to locate fixings, aesthetic appearance and support. Ryman ‘particularly wanted the Red Wood for its colour'. The central section of the white paint is separated from a band of white paint, which surrounds the work, by a strip of more or less unpainted fibreglass. The band of paint has the appearance of tape in that an illusion is created of overlapping strips of tape by the denser application of paint in certain areas. According to the artist the width of the band corresponds to the width of the brush he employed. No tape was used in making this work and the illusion of having used it is unintentional. The application of paint in the central area is uneven and thin with variable transparency depending on the number of layers. The brush strokes are not stressed as they are in earlier works by Ryman. Three types of hogshair brush were used in applying the paint: one inch, two inches and three inches. The paint was applied in sweeping motions rather than by dabbing and the painting was executed in an upright position, always being orientated the same way.

Ryman previously used ‘enamelac' in 1969 in a painting on corrugated paper entitled ‘VII' (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, repr. Robert Ryman, exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Feb.-March 1974, p.40), since when he has generally employed oil paint on canvas. Ryman states that he returned to ‘Enamelac' because it ‘seemed appropriate to use with fibreglass as I could achieve the translucence'. He chose fibreglass because it is a stable means of support and ‘will not crack or warp and is not affected by moisture or heat'. The support for the fibreglass is aluminium honeycomb which was chosen for its durability.

‘Core' 1983 (repr. Robert Ryman, Peintures récentes, exh. cat., Galerie Maeght Lelong, Paris, April-June 1984, p.11 in col.) is closely related to ‘Ledger' in both medium and shape although the application of paint is more even in ‘Core' and the painted area is edged on only the two vertical sides by unpainted fibreglass. Unlike paintings of 1981, for example ‘Chapter' (Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, repr. Robert Ryman, exh. cat., Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Oct.-Nov. 1981, p.91), the paint surface of ‘Ledger' is not so heavily worked and flatness is stressed. This emphasis on flatness is reminiscent of earlier works on paper such as ‘Exeter' 1968 and ‘Medway' 1968 (both repr. ibid., p.55).

Above and below the painted area of T03550 are two horizontal strips of aluminium which are integral to the work itself but which also act as fixing brackets. The surface of the aluminium has been deliberately textured with a wire brush so that the metal absorbs light evenly. One of the functions of the wood edges is to permit the fixing of these aluminium strips to the body of the work.

According to the artist ‘since the painting is not a picture of or about something, the title has no significance other than identification'. It was titled on completion. It is Ryman's general practice to find names that will not trigger association.

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.558-9