Robert Ryman



Not on display

Robert Ryman 1930 – 2019
Enamelac paint on fibreglass, aluminium and wood
Support: 982 × 918 × 38 mm
Presented by Janet Wolfson de Botton 1996


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.

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Display caption

Ryman's work is an exploration of the fundamental elements of painting: support, paint, brushstroke and the relationship to the wall. Colour is eliminated in order to focus more clearly on these. This painting is one of a group of paintings Ryman made during 1982-3 that are constructions which incorporate fibreglass panels and aluminium brackets. Ryman used enamel paint in these works because it appears translucent when applied to fibreglass. In 1976 Ryman began to integrate external wall fasteners into the composition of his works. In 'Guild', the aluminium brackets are a structural part of the painting. They function as a bridge between the painting and its supporting wall, thereby expanding the visual territory of the painting to include the space in which it is shown.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Technique and condition

The painting was executed on a single piece of a composite panel that consists of a sheet of aluminium honeycomb with a sheet of fibreglass covering its front and back faces and wooden insets along each edge. All joins between panel, fibreglass and wood are glued, probably with an epoxy adhesive. The panel was constructed by and purchased from Fine Art Stretchers and Services Inc. in Brooklyn, New York. At the rear of the panel two Z-shaped aluminium alloy brackets are screwed into the top and bottom red wood edging strips with steel screws, which along with four metal bolts and accompanying wall fixings are to be considered an integral part of the work. Indeed, Ryman provides detailed instructions as to the methods of its installation. Prior to their attachment to the panel, the aluminium bars were coated with a silicone lacquer metal protector, but the wooden strips have been left uncoated. The panel support does not appear to have been covered with any kind of preparatory 'ground' layers prior to the paint application, but was cleaned with a solution of Soilex detergent and rinsed thoroughly with water.

The paint is an opaque white and thought to be Enamelac, a type of paint based on the natural resin shellac and made by Mantrose Haeuser in New York. It extends over most of the panel face and was thinly applied by brush in several superimposed applications. The quick-drying nature of this type of paint would have permitted Ryman to apply a subsequent layer soon after the previous one whilst still using a wet-on-dry technique. Although the paint is all the same colour, there are subtle variations in the colour and gloss of the painting's surface, largely due to variations in the thickness of the paint, although the variation in gloss is also a result of the random direction of brushstrokes. Differences in colour are seen where the slightly green / grey colour of the fibreglass face of the support shows through (i.e. where there is only one or two layer of the paint). Both of these effects have become more apparent since the recent removal of a layer of dirt from the painting's surface.

The painting is in excellent condition. The paint is not exhibiting any cracks or other signs of deterioration, and is largely due to the extremely stable nature of the support. Despite its very good condition the painting is rather vulnerable to marking by fingerprints. However, providing a careful handling and storage policy is adopted and the work is always displayed behind a barrier it should remain in its current near-pristine condition for a considerable time

Tom Learner
April 1998


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