Whitehot Magazine

Chimera: An Interview with Cordy Ryman


Cordy Ryman, Installation view 2015, Zurcher Studio, New York

Chimera: An Intereview with Cordy Ryman

, JUN. 2015

From March 12th to May 7th, 2015 Cordy Ryman unveiled “Chimera 45,” a new site-specific installation that was a single, vast, sculptural painting resonating with white and red hues that were off-set and accentuated with different grades of pink and orange. Ryman horizontally installed hundereds of 2x4’s at a 45-degree angle upon separate segments of wood. The diagonal placement of each component created a series of linear juxatpositions that gave way to an infinite illusion, created by the interaction of colors. The vast space of the Zürcher Gallery, located on Bleecker Street near the Bowery, seemed to be floating aloft with the impression of rotating, tumbling colors that were given levity by shiny white paint.  The interview that follows evolved in prepation for the panel discussion “Chimera” that took place at the gallery on April 21st, 2015. On September 3rd, this installation titled, “Chimera 45,” will reappear at the Columbus College of Arts and Design in a three person show with Charles Atlas and Beverly Fishman.

Jill Conner: Since this work is site-specific, is there something in its aesthetic that connects it to the Bowery?

Cordy Ryman: I wouldn't say it's aesthetically connected to the Bowery specifically per say, but it could be very connected to New York city in a strange indirect way.  If I lived or built this while living in the alps or the Bahamas I'm sure the energy, the feel and the physical result would be very different.

JC:  To me, the “Chimera” installation seems to be engaging and subtly places the viewer into a performative role through the negation and implication of bright colors. Were you thinking of making a performative-type piece?

CR:  I wanted the piece to be able to be dynamic and changing as a person moves through it.  I sort of think of the piece as breathing or pulsing.  I wasn't thinking of the word "performance" but it could be applicable.  I was hoping it would be dynamic visually and maybe engulfing.

JC:  In the past few years you have exhibited sculptural wave paintings that were made of tall wood segments. These installations moved color throughout the gallery space - what determined your shift from center-space, free-standing paintings to one that is committed to the gallery wall?

CR:   I don’t feel like I ever really abandoned or shifted away from stand alone works. I still make them all the time and in some sense it is still my default. This gives me the most comfort as there is zero pressure. 

I feel like I have a number of modes of making thinking and working on things. Over time my vocabulary seems to expand and more modes strike me as interesting and I feel like, in a sense, I become more comfortable and confident using this language (of painting) in whatever way might strike me without second guessing too much.  I guess the real shifts maybe came from having more opportunities to put on exhibitions in interesting spaces.   

I also had the opportunity to witness firsthand how different artists have approached installing a show.  Working in the studio alone on a painting that has a set boarder is an interesting and always potentially rewarding process, but it is self contained and solo by nature. When given the opportunity to have a show where the gallery provides a space and gives you freedom, expecting you to make something happen, a slight but important shift does take place. 

Early in my career I relied on the gallery to pick the work and decide where and how to hang it, and I lacked the confidence to take this other mode on.  But I was keenly aware that the thinking about and the "installation" of the show was its own connected yet separate thing. And I was also aware that I was somewhat intimidated by this aspect.  Eventually I got to the point where, when presented with the opportunity to show, I would try to approach the space in a similar manner as I might approach a stand alone painting.

JC:  What does "Chimera 45" extend from the wave paintings as well as the tumbling box paintings?

CR:  I’m not sure. There are definitely some things that are similar. They are all made with 2x4’s using reflective colors, and they all achieve scale by repeating smaller forms. I think of them as being related, and definitely an extension on the same sort of branch.

Cordy Ryman, Installation view 2015, Zurcher Studio, New York

JC:  This exhibition combines your small- and large-scale art works, which has only recently been seen in Manhattan, even though you have exhibited in this format elsewhere. But I noticed among the small-scale pieces that you are working with text, with poetry. What are your feelings of text in art?

CR:  Working with text, poetry and paper really was very different for me! I was invited to do this project with Butor by a third-party, and by default, I just agreed because I figured it would be interesting and different. But I really had no idea what I was getting into. I did not know Butor’s work, I did not know the art publisher who set this up, and I didn't even know French! 

It was actually very stressful and difficult in the beginning because I had not worked with paper since college, I had no idea what could or should do with it. Nor did I know what Gervais, the publisher, or Butor expected me to do. I was sent texts of his poems printed on nice heavy paper and that was all. I had no deadline no guidelines and no translation! It just sat there in my studio causing anxiety, dread and pressure all summer!

All summer, I thought and stressed a lot, and made several tests. I tried different ideas and got very frustrated. I thought it was going to be a total failure, and embarrass Eve Aschheim, the artist who had recommended me Gervais.

I had 12 copies of unbound beautifully printed pages that I was terrified of messing up or smudging! I couldn't touch them out of fear but knew that I had to get my hands on them and risk messing them up in order to work it out. 

So I went to New York Central and found the same type of paper. I then cut it all down to make half a dozen fake books without text, but with scribble in the same place where text would be on the real ones.

Then I got several different translations of Butor’s text. It was painful but I continued and eventually I came up with a couple different systems or approaches that I liked.  In the end it was a great project and a great experience and I'm very glad I did it but in The beginning for a few months there it was tough. 

JC:  How did you mediate, or work past, the literal signifiers? For instance, did the sight of particular words effect your color choice or treatment of the overall composition?

CR:  I let myself be loosely guided by the translations I made. Each page was a different poem and I tried to go with their feel.

JC:  What does "Le J" stand for?

CR:  That was the name of Butor's "book"...I was told what it meant but to be honest at the moment I have now forgotten!!!

JC:  You work with wood and paint outside of the canvas. As a painter do you aspire to open up a rather removed medium to a more engaging cross-roads?

CR:  I'm not sure what you mean?

JC:  Can painting successfully grow if it interacts with other environments? 

CR:  I think painting can and is still interesting either way!

JC:  The small-scale paintings focus on juxtaposing colors and textures.  However these tensions are set free somewhat in "Chimera 45". What underlies this experiential shift?

CR:  It’s just a different branch, I think. Generally I work on multiple things simultaneously.  Sometimes they are related, sometimes they are opposites or reactions to each other in a way. “Chimera,” was very labor intensive: clear, fairly-planned and singular in purpose. I knew what I wanted but the steps to make it were long and it was created in sections bit by bit. In order to stay sane I had to work on other things that often seemed to be more tactile.

JC: Do you feel that by using wood, rather than canvas, that your paintings move the background of painting into the foreground?

CR:  I definitely notice that historically I've preferred solid surfaces over canvas and paper, and I think that for me there is more of a “feeling” of solid colors, shapes and forms as opposed to “real things” -  rather than veneers or props or illusions of a real thing.  I’m not sure if that makes total sense but that’s sort of how I feel about it. With that being said, I reserve the right to change my mind on this or try to be more "successful" with softer materials in the future.

JC:  Your art feels real or authentic because it breaks the rules, on the one hand, while asserting a new basis for abstract painting on the other.  In our internet, virtual age, do you find it challenging to stay real or authentic within your aesthetic?

CR:  I don’t think its too much of an issue. Authenticity and truthfulness seems to be a self correcting thing if you’re honest with yourself while your "working".  When you find yourself making things that aren't interesting but are maybe "moves" you know too well you can feel it.  Things sort of evolve in the studio on their own in order to keep me interested in them! 

As long as I continue to work, ideas make themselves known and new branches and channels just open up. When I get bored or or scared of messing something up, I just switch to a different project for awhile. At any one time I’ll have multiple things going, in progress. Some might be new things that I'm not sure about but am excited, but also might seem a tad disastrous. 

Then there might be things that are comforting and well established on a branch I know, but somehow will feel different than before - with today’s take on it. Then there might be longer termed things and commissions that are sort of planned where I know I need to cut 100 boards a certain way, then prime, and paint a certain way, which is tedious but with a very rewarding payoff at the end!

JC:  And yet your paintings are part of an unending dialogue between form and color, that always carries a flair of something new.  Should painting take on different forms in order to remain relevant? 

CR:  I think relevance to me in the studio and relevance to you as a critic and then relevance to a collector, can sometimes be different things.  I can’t really control the latter two!  If I'm lucky they all line up for me at times, but ultimately I have to make sure it’s relevant to me first, or else I'm in trouble.  Once it’s relevant and of interest to me, I have to assume that I'm not so unique and it will somehow be of interest to others who either think or are willing and wanting to think about my art along similar lines? WM



Jill Conner

Jill Conner is an art critic and curator based in New York City. She is currently the New York Editor for Whitehot Magazine and writes for other publications such as Afterimage, ArtUS, Sculpture and Art in America.  

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