Homage to Robert Ryman, Pt. 1, Introduction & Commentary

Homage to Robert Ryman   
Part 1 : Introduction & Commentary
Most of the photographs in this two-part Homage to Robert Ryman project, and the project preceding it, Broad Brook, October 14, 2017 were made between October 1 and November 3, 2017.  The photograph above was made on October 1, and all those that followed were--I believe--influenced by this image and the abstract paintings and ideas of the New York abstract painter Robert Ryman.  I did not become aware of Ryman's influence until I was nearing completion of the Broad Brook October 14 project.  I will explain more about this later, below.

When I made the photographs for the Ryman Homage and Broad Brook projects I was writing the text for the concluding seventh part of my Homage to Giacometti project.  The writing had become particularly difficult for me; I was feeling a lot of creative energy getting stuck inside my mind and my body.  I have learned over the years that one of the best ways for me to release that kind of blocked energy is to make photographs.  When I'm photographing, my mind comes to rest as all my attention gets focused on seeing and picture-making.  When I'm in this concentrated thought-free visually receptive state I often experience the world with a renewed sense of pleasure and wonder; picture-making becomes a delight, a joy; the beauty of the world seems to be looking at me.  The images come easily, naturally, spontaneously; filling the camera's frame becomes an exquisitely gratifying experience of free improvisation.

These kinds of brief but intense experiences of picture-making feel like gifts from my creative process, and the photographs--the sacred fruit of my longing to come into alignment with the sweet flow of grace.  The feeling in these extraordinary moments of picture-making is that of being fully alive, at one with the world.  And with that feeling comes the sense that "I" am not the one making the photographs.  Such is the nature of the photographs you will be seeing in this and the Broad Brook projects.

from the project Broad Brook October 14, 2017 

The Vermont Trip 
In mid-October my wife Gloria and I visited her sister Phyllis and her husband Jim in Vermont.  It was an unplanned but important "get-away" for me; it allowed me to drop my frustrations with writing and be with people I love in a refreshing, natural environment.  During the visit I made what turned out to be a surprising series of photographs in the brook which runs along the road across from Phyllis and Jim's house.  I published that collection of images at the end of October as the Broad Brook, October 14, 2017 project.  The brook photographs came in an unexpected flourish of picture-making activity; and while in Vermont I also made several other photographs, some of which appear in this first part of the Ryman Homage project (see below images 12, 13, 15, 20, 21 and 22).

Part One, Vermont, October 15, 2017 

Part One, Closet Purse, Canandaigua, NY   November 2, 2017 

After we returned home, and as I was nearing completion of the Giacometti project, I experienced a series of other brief, spontaneous picture-making flourishes in which I photographed things, spaces and the play of light inside our house.  I was once again surprised to see how many good images came so quickly, so easily, so unexpectedly.  Most of the images you will be seeing in this and the second part of the Ryman Homage were made after my return home from the Vermont trip.  

Grace & the Creative Process
I have stated above that the intense but brief episodes of picture-making I sometimes experience are the gifts of grace.  In the Siddha Yoga Meditation that I practice, grace is also known by the word shakti which means "the creative power of the universe."  

Swami Shantananda, one of the teaching swamis of Siddha Yoga, writes in his book The Splendor of Recognition about grace in his commentaries on the "The Five Acts of the Lord," an ancient yogic tradition in which sages have taught that the divine shakti is continually creating and dissolving, maintaining and concealing the entire universe.  In Swami Shantananda elaboration upon the fifth Act, the bestowal of grace, he explains that it is the shakti in the form of grace that is the solution to the Act of concealment.  Though the One divine Self--the Creator--is concealed or hidden within all aspects of Its Creation, Swamiji explains that it is the bestowal of grace which resolves or dissolves the illusion of duality inherent in the individual's universe.  Grace unveils the Truth of the Unitary Reality which belies the illusion of duality created by the ego in which we feel separate from the Self, the created world and "other" people.

When I am photographing, when I have become so concentrated in seeing and picture-making that my mind comes to a standstill--and thinking has dissolved--I sometimes fall into alignment with the flow of grace, the creative power (shakti) of the One divine Self.  In these extraordinary moments it is grace which directs my actions and my creative process.  The grace of my creative process takes me where It wants to go in terms of what in photographed and how they are made.  It must be understood that this is exactly what I long for as an artist: I want to serve the Creative Process; I want to be actively aligned with the flow of grace.  The creative fruit of this active surrendering are symbolic photographs.  My ego, my intellect has never been able to produce photographs that are as rich and sustaining in open-ended meaning as photographs that function as symbols.

The practices of Siddha Yoga Meditation have helped me come to know and embrace the ever present flowing of grace in a very intimate, personal way.  As a practicing artist I have come to identify with the mysterious power of the shakti as "my" own personal Creative Process.  My photography has become for me a form of meditation in action.  

The Unveiling of My Ryman Homage Project
I was slow coming to the realization that many (if not all) of the photographs I made between October 1 and November 3, 2017 had been influenced by the abstract painting of New York artist Robert Ryman.  In my own mind it was such an unlikely possibility that it took me a while to recognize and admit this fact.  Even as I write this I continue to be surprised that it happened.  Here is the story.

I had first become interested in Robert Ryman's painting around 2010.  I saw his work at Dia Beacon that year, and I purchased some books about his work between 2005 and 2010.  But his painting seemed mostly a curiosity to me.  I didn't really understand his painting though I found certain aspects of it quite intriguing, elegant, attractive, even beautiful.

Then in late September, 2017, I "accidentally" re-discovered Ryman's painting in an Art21 video entitled ParadoxIt was a program that "investigated the boundaries between abstraction and representation" through the works and interviews with three contemporary artists.  The issue of abstraction and representation is central to my own picture-making concerns, so I decided to watch the video, not knowing when I began watching it that Robert Ryman was one of the three artists featured in the program.  When I saw his paintings again, and heard what he said about his painting, something that had apparently been lingering dormant within me for years was suddenly awakened.


I had been looking through the Art21 programs searching for some possible ideas for a new project because I was nearing the completion of the Giacometti project.  After watching the video (which was made in 2007) and looking at the books I had purchased earlier, I felt compelled to see what other books about Ryman and his work had been published since 2010.  Interestingly (synchronistically) two very comprehensive books about Ryman and his work had just come out; one was published by the Dia Art Foundation in June, 2017;  and the other, by Phaidon Press, had been published in early September, just days before I saw the Ryman video.

As I studied Ryman's paintings again, and contemplated the things he had said about his work, I began wondering about the possibility of making an Homage project dedicated to Ryman.  After considering that for a while, however, I just could not imagine how I would pull such a project off.  I dropped the idea (or at least it seemed I had).


As I was putting the finishing touches on the Broad Brook October 14 project I began remembering how, as I was making photographs in the brook, I sometimes would flash on memories of Ryman's paintings, those which I liked in the video and in the books I had been studying.  Then later I noticed the same thing happening when I was making photographs inside our house.  Clearly, my creative process had already taken the lead on the idea of a Ryman Homage project.

After contemplating the abundance of images born seemingly "out of the blue" in the four-week period between October 1 and November 3, I began to recognize Ryman's influence in the work more clearly.  The influence is often quite subtle, but it is there, perhaps only as a feeling, or a quality of light or space, or perhaps as a presence in certain tonalities and textures in the photographs.

I decided to divide the photographs (that remained after the Broad Brook project) into two sets of images.  Both sets of images are intimately related to each other and form an articulate visual whole that pays homage to Robert Ryman.  The primary difference between the two sets of images is pretty obvious: the photographs in Part One are more less thematically refined compared to Part Two.  Indeed, the images in Part Two directly reflect the themes announced in its subtitle: Surface Veils, Light, Delight & Enlightenment. 

Between Abstraction and Representation
I have for as long as I can remember been torn between my interest in the photograph as a representation of the world, and its more abstract-formal-structural "language."  The two speak in different visual ways.  The one is more descriptive and narrative; the other speaks a silent, more purely formal-abstract visual language.  It has become clear to me that Ryman's paintings hold important lessons within them that I have needed to integrate into my own picture-making practice.  I have been very vigilant, however, not to publish photographs in this project that simply imitate the "look" of a Ryman painting.  When I truly surrender myself to the grace that directs my creative process, the possibility of that happening pretty much dissolves in a kind of luminosity that is not visible to the human eye.

Ryman, now 87 years old, has been one of the most important abstract painters of the New York school.  He is not a minimalist; he is not an action painter; he is not a conceptualist.  He cannot be categorized.  But his work has enlightened the most serious painters in the modern era, particularly in New York, and particularly those who make "abstract" paintings.  I too have learned a great deal about myself and my work from studying his abstract paintings and reading his comments about his creative process.

Though I have often thought of my photographs as abstract visual images--in the sense that the meaning of the images transcend the subject matter photographed--what is of most interest to me, and is the greater and most meaningful challenge to me as an artist . . . is to visually articulate a perfect visual balance, an active shakti-filled tension, between abstraction and representation in my photography.

All this is to say, then, that the photographs in both parts of this project are not so much about what I have photographed, but rather more about how I have photographed, and the state of mind I was in when I made the photographs. The photographs are "about" seeing, and "about" picture-making; they are "about" the intuitive-spontaneous-graceful improvisatory placement of visual elements within the camera's frame.  They are about pictorial form, visual structure, space and light, and the playful interactions of shapes, lines, tones and colors . . . and a balanced tension with the appearances of the world.  I have not--and never wanted--to disregarded the created world in my photography.  It's important for me to acknowledge the things of the world, for the divine Self is present in all created things; but I want to always see beyond the surface veils of appearances, and make (symbolic) images that provides a more direct experience with the divine which is hidden behind or within the things of the world, their surface appearances.  It is my experience that the abstract visual language of pictorial form can open a door that allows me to move past the surface veils to that deeper reality.  If my effort and longing to do so works in sympathy with the grace of the Creative Process so that the two are allowed to move together unobstructed, the resultant images can speak a (silent-formal) language that transcends dualism, that is to say, the images will function as symbolsimages that unveil the Unitary Reality that lies beneath the infinite number of things of the created world.

It is the grace of the symbol that manifests images which conjoin all opposites: abstraction and representation, heaven and earth, light and dark . . .  It is the symbol which holds in balanced union the divine-archetypal image with its worldly visual counterpart.  The symbol is empowered with the grace which unveils the divine nature of the created universe, the grace that dissolves the apparent duality of our existence.  The symbolic photograph celebrates the Unitary Reality, the Light of Consciousness that originates and is concealed within all things.    

Light, Delight, Enlightenment
Ryman has said that the purpose of painting is to give pleasure, to delight, to enlighten.  I certainly feel that his work, in the most primal-transcendent sense, is about light, just as I think that most of the photographs in this project are about light.  He might not like hearing this kind of response to his work, but that's my experience.  In Part Two of this project, subtitled Surface Veils, Light, Delight & Enlightenment I will continue to explore light as a specific focus both in Ryman's painting and in my photography.  And in my Commentary section which concludes this project, light will be at the very center of my discussion.


Though I have been working on Part One and Part Two of this project concurrently, Part Two remains a work-in-progress.  It may be several weeks before I will be able to conclude the project as a whole.  I invite you to watch for the announcement of the completion of Part Two: Surface Veils, Light, Delight & Enlightenment at the very top of my blog's Welcome Page in the section entitled: "Recently Added Projects." 

Thank you for visiting this first part of the Ryman Homeage.  Following the presentation of the photographs below I have written a commentary on one of the images in this collection.  I think you will find that the ideas discussed there will help prepare you in useful ways for the second and concluding part of the project.


Click on the images to enlarge them.



Image #1    Part I ~ Homage to Robert Ryman    (October 1, 2017)    

Image #2    Part I ~ Homage to Robert Ryman     (Dried plants, reflection in vase) 

Image #3    Part I ~ Homage to Robert Ryman     (Cloths hanger clip) 

Image #4    Part I ~ Homage to Robert Ryman     (Night light & towel ring) 

Image #5    Part I ~ Homage to Robert Ryman    (Illuminated lamp reflection inside a picture frame reflection)

Image #6    Part I ~ Homage to Robert Ryman    (Detail of wall edge and ceiling) 

Image #7    Part I ~ Homage to Robert Ryman     (House roofs in fog and morning light) 

Image #8    Part I ~ Homage to Robert Ryman     (Bathroom fixtures) 

Image #9    Part I ~ Homage to Robert Ryman     (Shower door) 

         Image #10    Part I ~ Homage to Robert Ryman    (Cloths hangers)

Image #11    Part I ~ Homage to Robert Ryman    (Garage, rope, shadow) 

Image #12    Part I ~ Homage to Robert Ryman     (Pine needles on window ledge, reflection of blue sky) Vermont, October 14 

Image #13    Part I ~ Homage to Robert Ryman     (The blue dot)  Vermont, October 14

Image #14    Part I ~ Homage to Robert Ryman     (Light reflected off of gold frame) 

Image #15    Part I ~ Homage to Robert Ryman     (Lamp reflected in window)  Vermont, October 14

Image #16    Part I ~ Homage to Robert Ryman     (Reflection in picture window covered with rain drops, of Gloria reading under a light)

Image #17   Part I ~ Homage to Robert Ryman     (Lampshade & shadows) 

Image #18   Part I ~ Homage to Robert Ryman     (Purse on closet shelf) 

Image #19    Part I ~ Homage to Robert Ryman     (Cloths hangers & shadows)

Image #20    Part I ~ Homage to Robert Ryman     (Leaves and shadows on tree trunk)  Vermont, Broad Brook, October 14

Image #221   Part I ~ Homage to Robert Ryman     (Sunlit tree leaves and garage roof)  Vermont, Broad Brook, October 14

Image #22    Part I ~ Homage to Robert Ryman     (Stone wall) Vermont, Broad Brook ,October 14




Image #1    Part One, Homage to Robert Ryman   October 1, 2017
(Click on the image to enlarge it)

I have chosen this photograph to comment upon largely because it's gently assertive visual energy seems to be announcing the birth of something important, perhaps potentially transformative.  The image is for me luminously alive; its unfathomable light, its odd ambiguous space, its numinous angelic-like presence are indicators that the image is functioning for me as a symbol

I made the photograph on October 1, 2017,  just days after becoming re-acquainted (after several years) with Robert Ryman's abstract paintings.  This image literally initiated (unknown to me at the time) the Homage to Robert Ryman project.  I can feel, and in some instances see, the presence of this image in nearly all of the other photographs included in both parts of the Ryman Homage project and the Broad Brook, October 14 project.   

I will be including this photograph (again) in the second part of the Homage project which will be subtitled, Surface Veils, Light, Delight & Enlightenment because it is such an important image to the project as a whole, and because it is the very Imaginal embodiment of Part Two's subtitle.


I suspect for many viewers this image will not be easy to read because it lacks sufficient "real-world" context, and perhaps because it doesn't tell a story.  Its mysterious presence may make the mind or intellect uncomfortable.  For me, it's the kind of image that needs to be embraced, felt-into and then absorbed rather than "understood."  Facing an image that invokes the the unknown rather than affirms something we already know can be intimidating.  

Thus it may be useful for me to attempt to describe what I saw, what I pointed my camera toward when I made the photograph.  Before I do that, however, I want to affirm once again something I had written earlier, above in the Introduction.    

October 1, 2017

This photograph (and most of the images in this project) is not about what I photographed; it is about how I see photographically, and about how I made the photograph It is about picture-making and the silent, visual, abstract-formal language of grace, and its interactive union with the world of appearances.  It is about Unitary Reality, the divine Origin of the created world, the numinous life present within all created things which is in varying degrees unveiled by the power of the symbolic photograph and the viewer's willingness to be absorbed by the image.


I made the photograph in the late afternoon of October 1, 2017 as the sun was hanging low over the horizon of the meadow and the woods behind our house.  I was sitting at my usual place, at the round table in our dinning area, when I glanced up toward the sliding glass door that leads out to our back deck.  I was expecting to see our neighbor's birch tree, perhaps with some birds perched in it, and instead I saw a luminous form suspended in a space unfamiliar to me.  My viaul experience was like being visited by an apparition.  Indeed, I became confused, for what I had expected to see had become obscured or veiled by a mysterious presence of light in an inexplicable space.

I got my camera in the hopes of making a photograph of what I had just experienced. (Apparitions do not photograph well.)  I placed the radiant space in the center of the camera's frame for it seemed to me that what I was seeing was in the center of the greater space before me.  The radiant space certainly was in the center of my attention.  

In the bottom left corner of the photograph there is a diagonal form which is part of the deck's railing that runs along the right side of the deck next to the birch tree.  Along the right and top edges of the photograph there are multiple dark shapes which are the long, thin variegated leaves of an indoor plant that sits in front of the sliding glass door. 

Pragmatically speaking, the light form I saw suspended in the center of the space (in front of the birch tree I was looking toward) was the reflection of a white lace curtain that hangs over a window perpendicular to the right of the sliding glass door.  The curtain was being illuminated by the rays of the sun streaming low over the horizon and through our living room's picture window--which is to the left of our deck and the sliding glass door.  (Note: Images #5 and #16 below, which are photographs of reflections I saw in the picture window.)


It is one thing to describe what was seen in the world, another thing to describe what one sees in a photograph, and yet another thing to try to say what one's experience is of an image that is functioning as a symbol.   

Symbolically speaking, this photograph is about light, but not the kind of light that describes.  Rather, the picture is about the light that transforms ordinary perception into a living, transcendent experience; the light that invokes the feeling of magic or mystery, and in this case the light of an apparitional presence.  For me the image is the visual embodiment of what is termed, in the yoga I practice, the Light of Consciousness--light that is unknowable and yet provides a symbol with its radiance, a radiance that gives life and ineffable divine meaning to the image.  The Light of Consciousness is the grace, the felt presence within all images which function as symbols.  


Interestingly, the illuminated curtain which was hanging over the window to the right of the sliding glass door was placed there for the express purpose of allowing light into our dinning room area while at the same time veiling the view of our next-door neighbors.  We did not want our neighbors to be able to see into our house, and we wanted our own presence within our house to be hidden from their view.

Ryman titled a series of paintings he made in 1970-1971 "Surface Veil."  Vittorio Colaizzi writes in one of his essay's in the 2017 Phaidon publication Robert Ryman: "This tantalizingly poetic title is merely the brand name of the material on which he initiated the series, a diffusely woven fiberglass sheeting whose intended function is to soften the incoming sun from skylights."   


Ryman has stated that he wants his viewers to experience mystery in the paintings themselves as objects, the materials he used--the paint, the canvas or plastic, steel sheets, paper, tape--his handling of the paint, the brush strokes, the play of light upon the paintings' surfaces, etc.  He insists that he is not a painter of pictures, of images.  Ryman considers his paintings Realistic in the sense that they are real objects with qualities of their own.  His paintings are not pictures of or about anything else;  he has never tried to represent the world in his painting.  Rather he has spent his life investigating ways paint could be used to make paintings, paintings that he hopes will give "pleasure," "delight," and "enlightenment" to those who view them.

I am certain that we only find meaning in the things of the world when they mirror or reflect or correspond to something which is already within us, laying dormant, awaiting to be awakened when the time is right, when we have been properly prepared (by life experiences) to embrace a particular meaning with a consciousness equal to the task.

For example, I "accidentally" re-discovered Ryman's painting at the very moment when I was about to complete my Homage to Giacometti project, when I was feeling the need to begin searching for a new idea or  direction for a next project.  

My seeing of the video Paradox in late September, and then my making of this photograph on the first day of October is a perfect example of synchronicity, meaningful coincidence of events in time and space that cannot be accounted for from a rational, causal time-space perspective.  In my experience symbolic photographs are directly associated with the psychic mystery of synchronicity and the creative-revelatory power of grace.             

Symbols resonate with their own internal light, the radiant "light" of grace," light that is not photographable but which transforms the invisible into visible, meaningful (symbolic) images.  As we shall see in the second part of this project, light, delight, and enlightenment are intimately intermingled in the paintings of Robert Ryman and the photographs I have made inspired or influenced by Ryman's painting.  


Thank you for visiting this first part of my Homage to Robert Ryman project.  I look forward to meeting with you in the second and concluding part of the project: Surface Veils, Light, Delight & Enlightenment.  I will announce its completion and availability at the very top of my blog's Welcome Page in the section entitled: "Recently Added Projects."     

This project was announced on my blog's 
Welcome Page Christmas Day, December 25, 2017.

Related Project links

Homage to Robert Ryman ~ Part One: Introduction and Commentary 
Homage to Robert Ryman ~ Part Two:  Surface Veils, Light, Delight & Enlightenment 
Homage to Robert Ryman ~ Part Three: Epilogue

Broad Brook Photographs, October 14, 2017
Homage to Giacometti 
Symbolic photograph  
The Complete Collection of Homage Projects

Please visit my Welcome Page which contains a complete listing of my online photography projects, my resume, contact information, gallery affiliation, and much more.