Reinhardt, Martin, Richter : Colour in the Grid of Contemporary Painting
Ristvedt, Milly Mildred Thelma
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The objective of my thesis is to extend the scholarship on colour in painting by focusing on how it is employed within the structuring framework of the orthogonal grid in the paintings of three contemporary artists, Ad Reinhardt, Agnes Martin and Gerhard Richter. Form and colour are essential elements in painting, and within the “essentialist” grid painting, the presence and function of colour have not received the full discussion they deserve. Structuralist, post-structuralist and anthropological modes of critical analysis in the latter part of the twentieth century, framed by postwar disillusionment and skepticism, have contributed to the effective foreclosure of examination of metaphysical, spiritual and utopian dimensions promised by the grid and its colour earlier in the century. Artists working with the grid have explored, and continue to explore the same eternally vexing problems and mysteries of our existence, but analyses of their art are cloaked in an atmosphere and language of rationalism. Critics and scholars have devoted their attention to discussing the properties of form, giving the behavior and status of colour, as a property affecting mind and body, little mention. The position of colour deserves to be re-dressed, so that we may have a more complete understanding of grid painting as a discrete kind of abstract painting. Each of the three artists I have examined here employed colour and grid in strategies unique to their work and its purposes. Ad Reinhardt arrived at his 1960s “black” paintings out of a background that included strong political beliefs, resistance to the dominant strain of 1950s Abstract Expressionism, and a deep interest in eastern religions and Buddhism. Agnes Martin shared Reinhardt’s interest in Buddhism and eastern religions, but chose to move toward the light in the atmospheric colour of her paintings, speaking of the quest for perfection of the mind in her writings and interviews. Gerhard Richter’s colour charts, a longstanding major subset of the vast range of this prolific artist’s work, speak to a need to go beyond his love of painting to the ungraspable substance of colour itself.