Beautiful/Decay recently had the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes at Mark Moore Gallery while artist Cordy Ryman was installing his latest exhibition, “Hail to the Grid.” As the show title implues, Ryman both riffs off the conceptual frameworks of minimalism and abstraction, and simultaneously playfully transgresses some of the movements’ core philosopies. While minimalism delights in the precision and rationality of its more reductivist tendencies, at the very core of Ryman’s sensibility is an opposing sense of spontaneity and free-form creation. Many of his works are self-referential, responding to their own materials or processes as sources of inspiration and thematic vocabulary. For instance, the cast off remnants of Velcro used to install a piece to the wall are later integrated into a grid-like abstracted collage, which, in turn, becomes the subject matter for a painting. Ryman delights in the elegance of distilled form, though instills a sense of sincerity in their physicality: hand-cutting, painting and fashioning his constituent parts with an affectionate hand. While a minimalist like Stella, for example, savored the steely finality of his imposing black paintings, Ryman in contrast frequently re-works his pieces, allowing chance and flexibility to enter into the work at any time. Even the installation of works are constantly in flux–shortly after Beautiful/Decay snapped up photographs of Ryman’s installation in process, Ryman called to inform us that one of the pieces was now on the wall and the entire exhibition looked different! Be sure to visit Ryman’s exhibition, opening this Saturday and running until Dec. 21 to see the final results! Full interview with Ryman, including his process for creating works, installation and outlook on art, below.
SL: Many of your works are born from the very materiality and process that they emerged from originally, often referring back to their own physicality or as you mentioned spinning off into other works. It seems that one thing sort of leads to another, in an organic, self-referential fashion in your studio. Can you talk about your particular creative process, with regard to material & form and how that manifests itself in your work?
CR : I think you stated it pretty well…I guess I work in a few different ways…some works are totally planned and executed more or less as planned, while other works start with a loose plan or idea and then quickly go in another direction that comes up while working and reacting to what happen. Others still start as cast-offs or reactions to works already in process.
This third form happens in a few different ways. Sometimes it’s the palette (I usually use scrap pieces as palettes) I use while working and I respond or react to the random blotches or color already on the piece. Sometimes the ideas from one piece cause me to quickly start another on a different surface using some variant of the original plan (so I have two cooking from same batch)…. and sometimes it’s a 180 degree reaction to the ideas/styles/feel of a piece. If the piece is very controlled or rigid I might instinctively feel the need to make something loose and crazy (almost to reassure myself that I can still do the opposite if I want to). I often start from scraps of cut-offs of the piece I’m making. If I’m mounting things with Velcro I’ll use the excess Velcro to start another piece. Or, if I’m painting something green (I’m sloppy and often squeeze/pour out more than I need) I might spot something across the room that could also use a bit of green here or there, even if it’s an older “finished work.” I work on a number of things at one time usually. A core group of two or three might be related and then maybe one or two are reactions…. I’ll also sometimes get fixated on certain things (color combinations/ materials/ concepts) for a period of time. For example, I had a period a few moths ago when I was making a lot of yellow or yellow/green paintings. Before that I was using lavender a lot…. when it’s happing I simultaneously embrace and fight this. So they will often come out in related batches….then of course I force myself in another direction.
SL: Some of your works are more reactive to the architecture of the site in which they are to be installed. Can you talk about some of the elements of place and space you take into consideration when installing a work, what aspects in particular you respond to?
CR ….I try to take whatever is there into consideration. Most of the work I do that responds to architecture is adaptable in nature. I have an idea and plan but within that plan there is usually leeway. So in that sense they can be sort of a collaborative process between me and whoever is installing the piece. Certain pieces are made with universal spaces in mind – for example, most corners are 90 degrees–so corner pieces are cut 90 degrees. When I have a show the first thing I do is get a floor plan, photos, and measurement of the space. Then I will usually make something that I think will activate or use the space in an interesting way…. or I’ll adapt ready-made things to suit the space. From there it sort of becomes like working in the studio where I then react to those pieces that are already in place.
SL: Your works are abstract and draw on some of Minimalism’s more reductive elements, though rather than the straight, clean-lined, hard-edge Industrial nature of some of the materials artists like Richard Serra or Dan Flavin used, your works are infused with a kind of off-kilter personality- hand painted and hand-cut, they eschew some of the anonymity of Minimalism. How do you see these two aspects of your work playing off each other- the idiosyncrasy of your hand and their more Minimalist forms?
CR: I grew up around a lot of “minimalist” art and works produced between 1960-1980’a…so certain things or solutions in painting are always going to resonate as: correct or iconic….comfortable…comforting… to me. So when I’m working these things ALWAYS come up. This used to bother me sometimes….but at this point it really doesn’t. I accept that those things and that work is all part of me. That being said I am my own person… so while certain forms are always going to resonate I don’t feel bound by any of the “rules” that can be implied by those forms. I feel like I play with them but not in a negative way. When they asked me for a show title I was sort of stumped for a day or two and then I came up with “hail to the grid” cause I noticed that a lot of the works were working with or off the grid….and the grid has been such a huge thing in modern painting and sculpture. So I salute the grid but don’t feel bound to it.
One thing that bothered me about a lot of minimalism was the “pedestal” that it was put upon (and I don’t mean a physical pedestal). For me the fact that people made such a big deal about certain works and artists made it harder to really experience/ understand them. I don’t want my work to be like that. I don’t want it to be pretentious. I want things to feel human and have evidence of the hand. I want it to be serious but I also want it to be fun too. I want the work to feel and be alive. Not dead and cold or manufactured by machines or teams of assistants. I think that there CAN be contradictory elements and ideas within the same piece without canceling each other out. And those tensions can often be just the thing that makes a work love and breathe.
SL: There is also a playfulness and freedom within the works- it seems to be derived in your loose approach to creating them in the first place. I know you mentioned that when you’re stumped, you haul out all the odds and ends left over from constructing other pieces, and start to see what you can make of them. Can you talk about humor and the idea of play with regards to the works?
CR: For me the element of play and freedom is huge. Without “play” things get boring pretty fast…and then the next thing you know its WORK. Play, freedom and creativity are tied together. I don’t really think that some people are artists and some people are not artists. I think that humans as a species are artistic and that’s one of the main things that make us humans. “Artists” are just people that choose to focus and develop it. If you watch kids playing or making things its really amazing….they are natural little artists….they are constantly reacting, having fun, and changing the rules. The product almost doesn’t matter. So for me I always want to always keep some of that…(but I want the product too!)