McCracken began his plank series in 1966 while exploring simplicity and reductivism in his work. The pieces of plywood leaning against the wall of his studio, waiting to be transformed into blocks, seemed to be the simplest idea McCracken could imagine. The artist began covering the plywood with fiberglass and colored resin to create forms of pure color, unadulterated by signs of human touch.
Yet the simplicity of form is highly specific: the planks vary in height and so also in the angle at which they are leaned against the wall. Untitled (Red Plank) stands at just over 6’8”, just the right height to be within the human scale without being personified into an abstract human figure. The colors and titles of the works are also unique; McCracken often intuits such decisions while he executes the work, reinforcing the mysterious self-possession of the planks. While he sometimes gives them names of shapes or ideas they evoke, the title of the present work is explicitly minimal, stating only what it is: a red plank. As McCracken has reasoned, “I was always primarily interested in form alone, but then to make a form, you have to make it out of something. So color seemed a natural material to use, because color is abstract. If you make a form that appears to be composed of color, then you have something, an object, that's pretty abstract” (John McCracken in conversation with Thomas Kellein, cited in: Exh. Cat. Kunsthalle Basel, McCracken, 1995, p. 22).
McCracken's plank is a painting-sculpture hybrid. The painted wood has moved away from the wall but still interacts with and relies upon it for support. “When you set things vertically they go with everything but when you set them at an angle then you have something that shifts away from our reality. It's partly in the world and partly out of the world. It's like a visit” (John McCracken in conversation with Dike Blair, cited in: Dike Blair, “Otherworldly,” Again: Selected Interviews and Essays, Chicago 2007, p. 82). Untitled (Red Plank) is simultaneously a minimalist reduction and multi-dimensional exploration of the viewer’s space, perfectly embodying the questions that fascinated McCracken most in his oeuvre.
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