… “It’s like driving a car on a road where you feel the curve coming.”
This is from the essay ‘Follow the Line’ by Douglas Dreishpoon found in Robert Mangold: Beyond the Line ǀ Paintings and Project 2000-2008 (2009):
So much of the journey is process, the permutation of pictorial ideas in real time. The pursuit of one idea instead of another depends on circumstance and timing, intuited choice, and the work’s internal momentum. As with any empirical journey, what counts is the present position. And when the process involves drawing, as it has with Robert Mangold since the late 1960s, there are bound to be surprises.
[line break added] A seedbed for ideas, drawing became early on the generative pulse of Mangold’s quiet abstractions. Drawing absorbs failure without doubt; it’s forgiving when it comes to fits and starts, aborted attempts, and outright rejects, which may help to explain why he gravitated to it in the first place. When drawing enters the arena of painting as its primary figure, the journey assumes a distinct character.
… Time colors radical acts in shades of nostalgia and endows them with art-historical credibility. Pollock’s improvised dance around the canvas, captured by the photographer Hans Namuth, belies the unsettled violence of his images. After more than forty years, a Pollock abstraction still provokes, but its provocation is filtered through a cultural scrim of art-world affluence and inflated markets. Sol LeWitt’s decision in 1968 to draw directly on the wall of Paula Cooper’s Prince Street Gallery now seems as prescient as Pollock’s impulse to drip, splatter, and pour common house paint across a canvas lying on the floor of his Long Island studio in Springs.
[line break added] Pollock did for painting what LeWitt, minus the histrionics, did for drawing, with simple instructions for a series of lines to be drawn with a straightedge and graphite pencil. By transposing the context for drawing from a humble sheet of paper to an expansive white wall, LeWitt endowed the act with purposeful ambition.
LeWitt’s first wall drawings had an immediate and sympathetic impact on Mangold, who recalled, “When I saw him drawing on the wall, it was a liberating moment. I thought, here is Sol using an HB pencil, doing lines on a wall. Why can’t I do lines on a canvas, make a linear statement on the canvas?”
… Robert Mangold would be the first to say that when it came to translating ideas into images, he and Sol LeWitt differed in their approach. Although LeWitt eventually delegated the installation of his wall drawings and the fabrication of his sculptures to others, Mangold kept his hand in the process. “It was very important to me that I drew the lines,” he declared. “It had to be my eye that decided how these things happened.”
[line break added] Whereas LeWitt tended to conceive on paper every permutation for an idea. Mangold’s pursuit of an idea has always been visually determined, envisioned on paper but fleshed out in real time, where each series is sustained by self-generated interest rather than by a priori projections. Certain rules may prime a series, but the framework remains open to intuitive judgments.
Intuition may well be the Achilles heel of Conceptual Art, its silent muse and merry prankster. If Mangold and LeWitt share a common philosophy, it thrives on the heuristic notion that intuition flies in the face of logic, defies classification, and ultimately graces good art. “Some ideas are logical in conception and illogical perceptually,” wrote LeWitt in one of his more provocative “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art.” “The ideas need not be complex. Most ideas that are successful are ludicrously simple. Successful ideas generally have the appearance of simplicity because they seem inevitable. In terms of ideas, the artist is free even to surprise himself. Ideas are discovered by intuition.
Mangold, too, is clear that intuition is the touchstone for many of his ideas.
[ … ]
… “Your arm becomes like a big compass. You know where the starting point is and where the middle point is, too. You end up feeling your way around, without being too far off the marks and with many little refinements, because your arm really isn’t a compass.” Preliminary marks aligned with the grid are signposts that guide a repetitive series of actions.
[line break added] “With the line,” he continued, “it’s not just a question of hitting the marks; you have to know ahead of time where you’re going and how to get there. It’s like driving a car on a road where you feel the curve coming. You feel what the line is going to do before you actually start doing it. If the lines were drawn mechanically, there’s be no transition from one curve to the next. But when you’re actually drawing them by hand, transitions have to be anticipated. The making of lines becomes a living set of choices.”
… For more than forty years, Mangold has faithfully relied on intuitive feelings and hunches to keep his art grounded in the moment. The progression from Euclidean lines that speak in whispers to unbounded lines that dance has in no way compromised the work’s inherently quiet persona, where drawing’s union with painting is finessed by the body. A Mangold abstraction records the many empirical choices that come to bear on its surface: a thoughtful journey with humane consequences.