top of page
Robert Ryman Untitled, 1964

Robert Ryman

Born 1930

American-born artist Robert Ryman is one of the most influential figures of his generation, and one of the most successful. While most closely associated with the movement toward monochromatic paintings, Robert Ryman has also created some of the best abstract works in the world of modern art.


Robert Ryman is known for many things, but his abstract works are among his most popular. Some of this best known works are abstract pieces that use white-on-white finishes to create surprising depth and beauty.


Best known for his conceptual art, Robert Ryman hails from Nashville, Tennessee, a city better known for its country music than its modern art. Even so, Robert Ryman has gone on to enjoy an amazing career as an artist and painter.


Robert Ryman attended school at the Tennessee Polytechnic Institute in nearby Cookeville, Tennessee from 1948 to 1949, and later at the George Peabody College for Teachers in 1949 and 1950. After completing his studies, Robert Ryman enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve Corps, where he was assigned to the band during the Korean War.


After his stint in the U.S. Army, Robert Ryman moved to New York City. At that time, his intention was to work as a professional jazz saxophonist, and he worked with noted pianist Lennie Tristano. That exposure to the world of music would later have a profound influence on his painting, as would his day job as a guard at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City.


While working as a security guard at MOMA, Robert Ryman was able to meet Sol LeWitt and Dan Flavin, two contemporary artists who were also fellow museum guards. After his job at MOMA, Robert Ryman went on to work at the New York Public Library, serving in the art division.


It was during this same period that Robert Ryman first met Roy Lichtenstein, a darling of the art world and the creator of some of the most iconic works of the era. Robert Ryman was entranced by the works of Lichtenstein, and by the abstract expressionism of artists like Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.


Insipired by the work of his fellow artists, Robert Ryman used the money he had saved to purchase some art supplies and started to experiment with his own artistic visions. In 1955, Robert Ryman completed what would become his first professional work.


That early work, a mostly monochromatic piece, gave viewers a glimpse of the greatness to come, and it was soon followed by other works that were just as promising and just as beautiful. During these early years, Robert Ryman often sought advice and guidance from Orrin Riley, a well known conservator with an eye for up-and-coming artists.


Robert Ryman married Lucy Lippard, an art historian, in 1961, and they went on to have a son together. That son, Ethan Ryman, is also an artist and a successful sound engineer. After a divorce from his first wife, Robert Ryman eventually married Merril Wagner, a fellow artist, and had two more sons, Cordy and Robert, both of whom are artists in their own right.


Robert Ryman is most often associated with the minimalist school of art, a title he generally rejects. Instead, Robert Ryman prefers to be known as a realist, and he has often said he has no interest in creating illusions. Instead, he focuses on presenting the materials he uses at face value.


That realism is clearly evident in the works of Robert Ryman, from his stunning white-on-white canvases to his gleaming metal surfaces. Robert Ryman is constantly experimenting with different media and looking for new ways to present his vision, and over time he has used a wide variety of materials to create his works.


Those materials include Plexiglas, fiberglass, burlap, corrugated paper, newsprint, aluminum, steel, linen and even jute sacking. In addition, Robert Ryman often uses a special composite material known as gator board, incorporating it into his paintings, collages and larger works.


While he is best known as a contemporary artist and painter, Robert Ryman has also worked with a variety of other media, including prints, etchings, lithographs, silk-screens and aquaprints. No matter what media he uses, Robert Ryman is able to bring his unique sensibilities to bear, creating works of amazing beauty and unparalleled power.

    bottom of page