A Struggle for Balance
by Thomas Micchelli on September 10, 2016
author for Hyperallergic, New York
The muscular abstractions of Ivo Ringe may appear to have little in common with the calibrated colored squares of Josef Albers or the mysticism of Joseph Beuys — or, for that matter, the science of classical proportions, the cellular patterns of plants, or the molecular growth of crystals — but such disparate concerns constitute the connective tissue that makes them what they are.
Ringe, who was born in 1951 in Bonn, Germany, studied with Beuys at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in the early 1970s, where he crossed paths with fellow student Anselm Kiefer. Having worked in printmaking and sculpture before turning to paint and canvas, he resisted the Neo-Expressionist indulgences that held sway among his peer group, engaging instead in a measured approach that had more in common with Beuys’s minimalist protégés, Blinky Palermo and Imi Knoebel.
Like them, he stripped painting down to its fundamentals — color, texture, dimensions, scale — examining each piece before reinserting it into his refurbished conception of art. Among the more intriguing aspects of Ringe’s work is the thoroughness of its self-analysis: nothing, not even randomness, is done without a reason.
His armature of signification begins with the most basic of elements, the proportion of the canvas support. For many years Ringe has been working with the golden section (1:1.618) as an internal anchor, locating points of contact where he would lay the foundation of his shapes and lines.
The canvases in Ringe’s current show at Hionas Gallery on the Lower East Side (which is titled Morphic Fields and marks the artist’s first solo exhibition in the United States) are all 40 x 48 or 10 x 12 inches — the “victory” ratio (1:1.222), based on ancient Sanskrit texts.
The majority of the paintings are dominated by a network of wide brushstrokes against a monochromatic field, propagating across the surface from node to node, sometimes remaining inside the canvas’s physical borders and sometimes spreading beyond them.
The artist first locates the golden section within the victory ratio, marking it with three or four touches of the brush — designating the nodes, or starting points, for the network of strokes — and then randomly chooses several more in the heat of the moment — an expressionist gesture reverberating against the work’s a priori rigor.
In a few of the paintings there is a secondary shape beneath the brushstrokes, an irregular quadrilateral whose angles are also determined by points of contact with the golden section. Sometimes this shape is hard to detect (black against dark blue) and sometimes it jumps off the surrounding field (amber against off-white).
Despite the extent of planning that goes into the paintings’ conceptual underpinnings, the first thing you notice about Ringe’s canvases is how propulsive, roiling, and destabilized they can be. The second thing you notice is how different they are from one another. The brushwork is fully loaded here, slashed and streaked there; flat and opaque in one work, milky and translucent in another. The picture plane can feel as impermeable as a concrete wall, or it can dissipate like a mist, plunging your field of vision into deep space.
The quadrilateral seems to play a secondary role, trapped, as it were, beneath the relentless buildup of brushstrokes. But in “The Dance” (2016), it is presented alone, without the overlay: a stark, black shape on a clean, white field. The simplicity of this composition acts as a clearing ground, or takeoff point, through which the viewer might assess the potency of the other canvases, which appear, by contrast, richly organic and often tumultuous.
Ringe is fascinated by the structures of growth in organic and inorganic substances — a focus on the life force that Beuys related to his own shamanistic practices. But in fact Ringe’s connection to the transcendent or mystical aspects of Beuys’s belief system is more metaphorical than not. His approach instead consciously draws an equivalence between the formal development of a painting and the growth of a leaf or a crystal; in each, complexity is achieved through the interaction of preset and random elements.
More germane to the artist’s pursuits is Josef Albers’ research into the interaction of color. Like Albers, he frequently uses an identical shade in two different paintings (such as the warmly toned gray brushstrokes in “Friday Night” and “Sunday Morning,” both 2016) against sharply dissimilar fields (black in the former, yellow in the latter), which yields a notable change in the appearance of the original color. He also introduces pure pigment into his paint, which affects the refraction of light bouncing off the surface.
If his analytical use of paint and color moves Ringe’s work in the direction of American Minimalism, he compounds that movement’s materialist formalism, and ultimately refutes it, through the extra-visual ideas undergirding his process. No distinction is made between formal concerns and such natural phenomena as crystal growth patterns; for Ringe, the act of working through a painting becomes, in a very real sense, the struggle for aesthetic, philosophical, and psychological balance.
To look at a painting like “The Bull” (2016), with its broad, scarlet brushstrokes against a black quadrilateral against a deep blue field, is to encounter a startling manifestation of energy running riot, barely checked by the canvas edge. By restricting his means of expression and concentrating his warring factions (randomness and control, formalism and anti-formalism) to the point of implosion, Ringe maximizes his paintings’ power while streamlining their receptivity to an expansive array of meanings. Paint, color, and form are used for their own sake, but they are never only about themselves.