“… It must be like a first meeting rather than a ‘don’t I remember you from somewhere, haven’t we met before?’ feeling.”
This is from the essay ‘Autonomy, Actuality, Mangold’ by Richard Shiff found in Robert Mangold (2000):
… To repeat one of Mangold’s recent statements: “My paintings … build from each other, and each represents an attempt to make an individual and collective point. A point that is still somewhat hidden from me.”
If, as early as 1958, Mangold had already acquired the work-as-process ethic of open, creative ‘craftsmanship,’ why did he need to abandon realism for abstraction to act upon his beliefs? Illustrative realism might have been conventional, but abstraction was becoming fashionable and perhaps a more dangerous lure to disorient artistic ambition. How did Mangold adhere to the aesthetic principles he decided were important without lapsing into what are in fact old clichés about ‘creative process,’ clichés that seem to verge on his actual practice?
[line break added] Like Newman before him, Mangold designed his abstract art to escape ‘abstract art,’ the aesthetic category. Like others of his own generation, he would struggle “to get away from the language that painting had had for so long, and to find ways of dealing with the real world.” This was to have aesthetic experience ‘first-hand,’ as Mills advocated. The method that succeeded for Mangold was material — as direct as replacing artist’s canvas with builder’s plywood, masonite and metal.
… During the late 1960s, Mangold similarly attempted to minimize whatever ‘gesture’ or expression might be associated with color in itself, but he neither resorted to achromatic effects nor gave up actual painting. Recognizing how suggestive virtually any hue could be, he selected his palette from colors so routinely linked to mundane material contexts that they would bear no extended connotation: “I was attracted to generic or ‘industrial’ colors; paper bag brown, file cabinet grey, industrial green, that kind of thing. I didn’t want color that looked like Matisse or Abstract Expressionism.”
[line break added] This was color without ‘meaning,’ without conceivable artistic reference, lacking even the purity or formal extreme that Ryman’s painting connoted, and avoiding the anti-painting aesthetic of the Minimalist ‘object.’ In Mangold’s hands, color and its shaped support acquired neither illusion nor allusion, nor any general theory that could explain that color and shape. He had his own way of letting materials and forms remain mere matter — as matter-of-fact as the edge of a building or the distant horizon, no explanation necessary.
Robert Mangold, Divided Arc, 2010
… In 1958, Mills had opposed ‘solid and immediate facts’ to ‘stereotypes of meaning.’ A ‘fact’ came first-hand when an individual was open and free enough to receive it. ‘Meaning’ belonged to the ‘second-hand worlds’ of commerce, fashion, ideology — the worlds of re-orientation that most individuals come to inhabit most of the time. Ideally, artists (designers) would enter a first-hand world of direct experience within their private studios. To give such experience an interpretation, or even to reproduce it, was to alter, distort or diminish it.
… An abstract artist (like Newman) refused thematics of ‘abstract art,’ an aesthetic materialist who avoided the fundamental materiality of sculpture. Mangold the painter also acted as if he lacked interest in ‘painting’: “[My works] are paintings in the sense that they are flat and painted, but the painting process is not terribly important to me, and it takes the least amount of time … I don’t particularly like the term ‘painting,’ because [it emphasizes] process, or applying paint.”
… Like so many of Modernists, Mangold used his chosen materials, structures and elements of line and color as if they themselves had an autonomous identity to be respected. And he did this with a vengeance, reaching for an expansive aesthetic realm (his ‘oxygen’) in which the autonomous would be available to the senses, more real than ideal, no longer compressed into an intellectual system of reference, a logic, a critical discourse:
No one area of the painting should be more important than another — [not] even the idea … A painting must confront the viewer, there has to be a fresh experience in this encounter … It must be like a first meeting rather than a ‘don’t I remember you from somewhere, haven’t we met before?’ feeling.
If, in 1971, Mangold’s art meant something and if it now means something, that ‘meaning’ is autonomy itself. The autonomy of Mangold’s art does not hinge on freedom of expression (although this is always implicit), nor does it derive from the free play of compositional forces (a formalism), but rather from the materialistic specificity of the object as created — a bedrock of identity presumed to exist outside all reference.
[line break added] Had Mangold chosen to signify this kind of identity by drawing attention to the materials of his painting (pigment, binding medium, physical support), he would have reinforced a counter-productive idea, stressing the concept more than the experience. Rather than using form to convey a preconceived message, he was feeling his way through a world of objects as he was creating them.
The square brackets in the above are in the original.