Skip to content

Robert Ryman was born in Nashville, Tennessee on May 30, 1930. He comes from a middle-class family; his father was a business man, his mother a amateur pianist. She fostered his early interest in music which was in the area of jazz. He studied the saxaphone for two years at Tennessee colleges. He attended the Tennessee Polytechnic Institute in Cooksville, Tennessee from 1948 to 1949 and the Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville from 1949 to 1950. He also served in the United States Army from 1950 to 1952 after which he moved to New York City.

When he arrived in Manhattan in 1952, he had no idea he would become a painter since he knew virtually nothing about visual art. Wandering around New York like a tourist, he started to explore the city’s art museums, and eventually bought some art supplies and tried painting. He soon gave up music entirely. He worked as a guard at the Museum of Modern Art where he met fellow artists Sol LeWitt and Dan Flavin and where he found ample time to study the modern masters. He was especially influenced by Cezanne, Picasso and Matisse and Mark Rothko. His last job was in the Art Division of the New York City Public Library, where he fleshed out his knowledge of art history.

Ryman wanted to discover something that would be a new way of seeing. That involved a gradual withdrawal of some aspects of painting in order to focus on others. Color was suppressed, gradually, over time, until he was only painting with white, in all its possible shapes, forms, thickness, etc. His visual purity and unwavering pursuit of his original artistic ideals continue to command respect.

Sources include:
White Magic by Nancy Grimes in Art News, Summer 1986
Drawing Now by Bernice Rose, Catalogue of the Museum of Modern Art, New York
Who’s Who in American Art, R.R.Bowker 1980

Compiled and written by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher of Laguna Woods, California.

Biography from the Archives of AskART.