Ad Reinhardt sought to create an art form that, in its monochromatic purity, could overcome the tyrannies of oppositional thinking.
Influenced by Stuart Davis’s Cubist-inspired paintings, Ad Reinhardt’s early work features canvases covered in colorful and asymmetrical geometric forms, such as Number 43 (Abstract Painting, Yellow) (1947). Reinhardt’s collages are similarly complex, with layers of printed paper cut and pasted in irregular rectilinear forms. His own influence on Minimalism is foreshadowed by his later monochromatic paintings, most notably his series of black abstracts that abandoned gesture in favor of smooth brush strokes and subtle, at times barely noticeable, grids.
In 1957 Ad Reinhardt wrote an article titled “Twelve Rules for a New Academy”. He sharply criticized his formalist contemporaries, offering instead twelve ways to achieve purity in art. There would be no forms, no texture, no color, nothing, just pure blackness, as in Reinhardt’s most famous paintings.
1. No texture.
2. No brushwork or calligraphy.
3. No sketching or drawing.
4. No forms.
5. No design.
6. No colors.
7. No light.
8. No space.
9. No time.
10. No size or scale.
11. No movement.
12. No object, no subject, no matter. No symbols, images or signs.
The black paintings mark the endpoint of years of experimentation—Reinhardt even called them his “ultimate paintings.” For years leading up to this body of work he had undertaken a ruthless process of renunciation, stripping away practically all the tools at the artist’s disposal, including color, contrast, facture, and shape—never mind representation, marketability, or “self-expression.”
Reinhardt desired to make “pure” paintings evincing an “art for art’s sake” position rather than working to communicate emotion or the physical act of painting itself.
Although Reinhardt sought to remove all references to the external world from his pictures, he remained convinced that his art had the potential to affect social change.
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