“I use the art of painting to represent color as the transparent appearance of light.”1
When Swiss-born artist Rudolf de Crignis (1948–2006) first visited Manhattan in the late 1970s, he was deeply affected by Minimalism, particularly the powerfully spare abstract paintings of Agnes Martin, Robert Ryman, Brice Marden, and Ad Reinhardt. He soon made New York his home and shifted from performance, video, and installation-based work to making abstract paintings and drawings about color, light, and space. Gradually, de Crignis came to focus on the color blue, primarily ultramarine blue, aiming to “bring the blue onto a level where it becomes totally neutral… (so that the paintings) are just catalysts to create the space and the light.”2
MATRIX 245, the artist’s first solo museum exhibition in the United States, brings together fourteen paintings and a series of graphite-and-wash works on paper from 1991 to 2006. A constellation of blues and grays, each work is a singular array of pigments, such as ultramarine, cobalt blue, royal blue, Scheveningen Warm Gray, and Persian red. De Crignis would begin with a smooth white gesso ground, then over weeks add as many as forty layers of semitransparent paint in glazes. He alternated layers in horizontal and vertical strokes, gradually creating surface depth. Often, he would move a painting from one wall to another during the course of a day in order to capture shifting light in the studio. The finished paintings coalesce as radiant veils of color interwoven with light reflecting back from the white gesso ground through the sequenced hues and tones.
De Crignis wrote about his paintings as works in progress, one decision leading to the next without a preordained plan. Above all, his goal was for his painting to be perceived as an experience. Through “this lively act of perception, the work becomes a picture-space.”3
1. Press release for Rudolf De Crignis Paintings (New York: Peter Blum Gallery, 2003).
2. Quoted in Michael Paoletta, Rudolf de Crignis Newsletter (October 2012).
3. Harvard Art Museums website.
MATRIX 245 is organized by Chief Curator and Director of Programs and Collections Lucinda Barnes. The MATRIX Program is made possible by a generous endowment gift from Phyllis C. Wattis and the continued support of the BAM/PFA Trustees.