Robert Mangold (B. 1937)
Robert Mangold (B. 1937)

Curled Figure IX

Robert Mangold (B. 1937)
Curled Figure IX
signed and titled 'R. Mangold CURLED FIGURE IX' (on the reverse)
triptych—acrylic and graphite on canvas
overall: 36 x 76 ½ in. (91.4 x 194.3 cm.)
Executed in 2000.
PaceWildenstein Gallery, New York
Greenberg Van Doren Gallery, New York
Private collection, New York
Pace Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
New York, PaceWildenstein Gallery, Robert Mangold: Curled Figure Paintings, March−April 2001, pp. 46-47 (illustrated and illustrated on the cover).


"I am an intuitive painter: I pursue certain ideas out of a strange curiosity and interest in seeing them realized. Why I came to choose one idea or possibility over another is not something I can explain or rationalize." - Robert Mangold

One of the most accomplished works from the artist’s Curled Figures series, this large-scale canvas displays Robert Mangold’s symphony of line and color. Painted in 2000, Curled Figures celebrates a form that the artist says has particular meaning to him, and as the serene curlicue meanders across the surface, he captures a subtle tension between the apparent freedom of the line’s progress and the constrictions imposed by the physical boundaries of the canvas. Here, elegant shapes combine with subtle interplays of color, resulting in a painting that is both magical and mystical—an accomplished celebration of color and form for which the artist is justly celebrated.

Across three conjoined canvases Mangold lays down numerous layers of verdant chartreuse pigment. The paint is applied by a roller in thin washes, which gives the work a luminosity that enlivens the surface. Upon this Mangold unleashes a line of soft graphite which unfurls its way across the canvas, expanding to almost fill the entire support before stopping short just of the upper right and lower left corners. Mangold counters that it is these areas at the margins of the canvas where most of the “painterly action” takes place, stating: “The drawn linear figures in my work react to the outside edges: they are bounded and confined by them. In most of paintings the drawn figure comes close to, but does not go beyond, the edge.” He continues, “In a painting the edge can simply be where the work ends, or conversely, where it begins. Edges create shape, the boundary of the painting. In those works that have multiple attached panels, the seams of the panels form an interior edge. The seams, or divisions, also become a form of measurement in the work when they occur at regular intervals” (R. Mangold, “Robert Mangold: Notes on Curled Figures,” Robert Mangold Curled Figure Paintings, exh. cat., PaceWildenstein, New York, 2001, p. 5).

These serpentine forms held particular resonance for Mangold, and he relished the challenge of exploring their potential. “These works with their particular forms have many connections for me,” he says. “They verge on both the fantastic and the mundane; they recall some of the earlies art forms, and forms in other cultures, archetypes of ornamental design” (Ibid., p. 7). Familiar yet mysterious, the sinuous line can be found in many natural and man-made forms. From the unfurling fronds of a tropical fern to the tightly wound contours of a nautilus shell, this is a form often to be found in nature. It has also been adopted by some of the greatest creators in human history—from architectural wonders to the scroll of a Stradivarius violin. In the form of the geometric Golden Spiral, this form has also been used by many artists to help compose the perfect portrait from da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring.

This form so appealed to Mangold that he devoted his entire Curled Figure series to exploring the potential of its form. “The idea/image comes to you like a stranger,” he notes, “and like an encounter with a stranger, there is both interest and anxiety or caution. I become more familiar with the idea/image by looking at it in various forms, by redoing or performing it again and again with variations. This repetition of the idea/image is done not to exploit the idea, but rather to get to know it, to get closer and more immersed in it. The process clarifies my thinking” (Ibid., p. 5).

Mangold’s paintings offer the opportunity to consider how the line of the curve works in harmony with—or in opposition to—the plane of color; how two-dimensional space plays against three-dimensional space; and how the line subdivides the planes of color. The overall effect suggests a classical, elegant order. A New York Times review of Mangold’s paintings noted that his “geometries sometimes suggest the skeletons of grand floor plans or architectural elevations, yet his paintings can also strike the eye as portable blackboards that demonstrate their own inherent structures. These paintings continually invite the viewer to think them through, their very titles prodding us to weigh the relationship between the drawn and the real, the flat and the volumetric, the arbitrary and the given” (R. Smith, “Cool, Geometric Paintings Of Robert Mangold,” The New York Times, September 29, 1989).

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