Robert Ryman was born May 30, 1930 in Nashville, Tennessee. Ryman studied at the Tennessee Polytechnic Institute (now Tennessee Technological University) and the George Peabody College for Teachers, Nashville (now a part of Vanderbilt University), before serving in the United States Army from 1950-1952. In 1952, Ryman relocated to New York where he made his first paintings while working as a security guard at the Museum of Modern Art. Ryman was intrigued by the abstract expressionist works of Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Clyfford Still and Jackson Pollock, and became curious about the act of painting.
Ryman is best known for his monochromatic canvases that explore the possibilities of materiality and the color white. Reducing his palette to a single color and his support to a square format, Ryman was able to create endless varieties out of these limitations by experimenting with a vast array of supports, different brush strokes, and a range of different wall fasteners.
Ryman's first solo exhibition was at the Paul Bianchini Gallery in 1967, and he was included in the important 1969 exhibition “When Attitudes Become Form” at the Kunsthalle Bern. His first solo museum exhibition took place at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1972; that same year, Ryman was invited to participate in Documenta V in Kassel. Ryman has been the subject of numerous retrospectives at institutions such as the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1974); Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (1977); and InK, Halle für Internationale Neue Kunst, Zurich (1980). A recipient of numerous honors, Ryman was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Scholarship (1974), the Skowhegan Medal from the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (1985), and he was elected in 1994 to The American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York. His work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Tate Modern, London; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, among others.
Robert Ryman passed away in February 2019 at his home in Manhattan at the age of 88.