Hans Janssen, Ed., Richard Serra: Drawings/Zeichnungen 1969-1990. Catalogue Raisonné/Werkverzeichnis, Bern 1990, pp. 81 and 215, no. 75, illustrated
Comprising a densely textured black triangle on a pale paper ground, Untitled exemplifies the essential concerns of Serra’s oeuvre: those of weight, structure and physical presence. The work’s packed-on paintstick surface creates a sensation of volume that emanates its own gravitational pull, while the central composition expands beyond the spatial limits of its two-dimensional plane. Rendered in a loose, painterly manner, the triangle’s edges imbue the composition with a marked sense of movement that seems to almost drag the triangle’s mass outside of the work’s perimeter. In this regard, Untitled’s black geometric form exudes and vibrates with the same physical energy, purity and formal elegance as the artist’s monumental sculpture.
As one of the most acclaimed artists of the last century, Serra came to prominence during the late 1960s for his process based practice. By employing heavy-weight materials such as molten lead and steel, Serra foregrounded fabrication as the very subject of his art. His sculpture is thus well known for being made from industrial scaled sheets of metal that, instead of being welded together, rely solely on gravity, weight and balance for stability. Vast and architectural, these works transform the spaces in which they are installed. Herein, Serra’s prominent body of works on paper, though ostensibly independent from his sculptural practice, nonetheless address the very same set of spatial concerns.
Since the 1960s, drawing has occupied a position of equal importance to the artist’s famous sculptural practice. In the early 1970s Serra began using black paintstick – a wax and carbon based medium – and in 1974, as a means of engaging more physically with his material, he began melting these crayon-like sticks together into brick-sized blocks in order to intuitively cover and densely cake pigment onto large surface areas of canvas or paper. Uninterested in colour owing to its lack of architectural force, Serra has always drawn in black, perceiving it as a structurally heavy material rather than as a colour. As a pendant to his sculptural works therefore, the drawings, as is evident here, confront the viewer with an imposing and structural experience. For Serra, the creation of works such as Untitled is an important and vital process that unites both body and mind. Pronounced as “a concentration on an essential activity” for which “the credibility of the statement is totally within your hands”, Serra puts enormous emphasis on the significance of drawing as a practice: “It’s the most direct, conscious space in which I work. I can observe my process from beginning to end, and at times sustain a continuous concentration. It’s replenishing” (Richard Serra in conversation with Lizzie Borden, in: Exh. Cat., Baden-Baden, Kunsthalle, Richard Serra, 1977, p. 223). Representing the very beginning of a sustained practice of paintstick drawing, Untitled is a formative and rare example from a moment of great innovation in Richard Serra’s career.
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