“I don’t understand, in a painting” remarked Ad Reinhardt, “the love of anything except the love of painting itself.” (the artist cited in "Artists’ Sessions at Studio 35 (1950)” Modern Artists in America,
No. 1, Wittenborn-Schultz, New York, 1951, p. 15) For Reinhardt, painting operated within a set of boundaries that rebuffed identifiable subject matter, sentiment and eventually the artist’s expressive hand. Only through acts of repudiation in both form and color could the limits of painting be explored and “pure” painting achieved. No truer is Reinhardt’s approach understood than in Untitled
from 1958. Painted five years after the artist decisively committed his energies exclusively to abstract, monochromatic paintings, the present work is part of the artist’s seminal “black paintings” series, a sequence which occupied the final decade of his life.
The success of the present work is a result of Reinhardt’s strong understanding of his medium. In keeping with his preference for acts of elimination, the artist removed the oil binder from the paint, thereby realizing a chalky, non-reflective pigment. For Reinhardt, reflection served as a distraction to the viewer, permitting application of personable connotations and content to the painting that he felt should be excluded. As Margit Rowell states, the observer “was never to lose his awareness that he was engaged in a process of seeing,
not of looking through a window, living out an ‘action’ or losing himself.” (Margit Rowell, Ad Reinhardt and Color,
New York, 1980, p. 22)
While outwardly straightforward, Untitled offers a captivating encounter to the attentive viewer, who must wrestle to secure a focal point amidst a hazy matte black surface. With adjustment and time, a subtle structure slowly manifests. The medium’s influence is facilitated by Reinhardt’s deliberate and controlled application of paint. Three dark horizontal bands occupy the top, center and bottom divisions of the narrow canvas interspersed with three hard-edged quadrants whose varying degrees of tonal movement and order engage, influence and even transform each other. A unique give and take unfolds upon this autonomous canvas, demonstrating not only the possibility of color in nonfigurative form but also illuminating Reinhardt’s spirited philosophy. By superimposing thin layer upon layer, Reinhardt removes the author’s gesticulation and the viewer is left contemplating the abiding, transcendent experience of the abstract form.