By Fiona Connolly
Richard Nonas has not taken a traditional route to become an artist – and it shows in his work. Nonas studied literature and social anthropology in school and went on to work as an anthropologist for 10 years. Because of this, the artist considers the physical, spiritual, and emotional in his art. This may come as a surprise when you view his minimalist sculptures and paintings. At “all; at once”, his 6th show with Fergus McCaffrey, Nonas works with steel to create drawings and sculptures that require not only observation of the work, but observation of the gallery space as well, and how a slight change in orientation changes everything.
In the mid-1960s when he turned to sculpture, the Minimalist movement was in full force. One of the elements that is intrinsic to Minimalist art is simple geometric forms in industrial materials (cement/fiberglass/steel/etc.). However, the lack of ornament and reference in minimalism does not also mean a lack of thought process. While the art is sleek to the eye, it plays with the space it occupies, making the viewer consider more deeply the choice of material, color, shape, and pattern.
Throughout the show, Nonas is challenging the eye with a confrontation of arrangement. Each artwork has the potential for rearrangement, and with a new arrangement comes a new interplay of power between the elements. For example, Untitled (Steel Drawing), 1988/2019 is an oil on steel work that features four black panels and one yellow panel. This color imbalance is extremely important for minimalist structures. By principle, minimalist art wants to bring awareness to place and the fluctuation that occurs when elements change. By switching a color into a new configuration, it affects not only with art physically, but it also affects the way that the brain interprets and the eye pulls focus. This concept in art became popular with the work of Piet Mondrian who famously made his art using only lines and the boxes that appeared at their cross section. By switching even one of the primary colors he had painted the boxes, the painting would have a new atmosphere. It is this constant state of rebirth and tantalizing uncertainty of what static art should be that Nonas also draws from. Untitled (Steel Painting) stands at an intimidating 72 x 170 x 10 ½ inches, making the sheets of steel seem even heavier, as though affecting the gravity around the body, bolting both to the ground. When the yellow panel is moved, you too can feel the shift in the air around you.
Richard Nonas has stated, “I don’t want answers from art. I want more questions. What interests me is uncertainty…; almost-clarity about not-quite-confusion”. Nonas’ minimalist art constantly provokes thought on the uncertainty of life, how easily we as humans can be affected by a slight change. If you moved all of your furniture 8 inches to the right, your muscle memory may cause you to miss a chair or bump into the corner of the table. Humanity loves to question simplicity, to ponder meanings and find solutions to not-quite-there problems. For a moment of contemplation, Richard Nonas offers you an oasis where there are no wrong answers.
“all; at once” is on view at Fergus McCaffrey through August 9.