Clouds Got in the Way: Louis Ribak Scrolls
All things are impermanent
All things are imperfect
All things are incomplete
These conditions make the richness of life a possibility
Louis Ribak (1902-1979) is best remembered for his paintings depicting the everyday life of working people during the desperate years of the Great Depression and, later, for his work turning towards abstraction - a change that may be described as a personal movement from an outer to a more inner directed practice. Clouds Got in the Way: Louis Ribak Scrolls examines the last and lesser known phase of Ribak's artistic life. During this period Ribak refined his interest in abstraction, taking it further through an exploration of the contemplative. He now reduced his materials to brush and black ink in a search for that which is essential and achieved through the coordination of mind, brush and body.
It is not known if Louis Ribak had any direct interest in Zen Buddhism. However, it seems clear from the work presented in this exhibition that he was inspired by - and influenced by - Asian aesthetics. We do know that Ribak was a collector of Japanese woodblock prints, including several incorporating elements of calligraphic writing. The seventeen pieces in this exhibition parallel both Japanese calligraphy and sumi-e, or Japanese Black Ink Painting. Ribak was not the only artist of his time to look to the east for a new means of expression. Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Mark Tobey, Robert Motherwell, and others were also moved to explore this aesthetic.
Ribak's large-scale scrolls echo a Japanese aesthetic in that they share a flat, declared space over an optical, illusionistic one. Additionally, each work is asymmetric or otherwise imperfect in some fashion. Imperfection of this kind embodies a melancholy sense of time that emphasizes impermanence, and is conducive to contemplation. Of great importance is that each work shows restraint, a sense that Ribak is holding something back, not making it too easy, not shooting for a masterpiece. The resulting tension makes the viewer reach in order to participate in the creative action, thereby completing the circle. Any of these qualities would give satisfaction, that they all can be found together in each of Louis Ribak's scrolls makes for a sublime experience.
Eight of the scrolls in this exhibition are borrowed from the University of New Mexico Art Museum, while the other nine are drawn from The Harwood Museum of Art's collection. Adjacent to Louis Ribak: Clouds Got in the Way is an intepretive space featuring several nineteenth-century Japanese woodcut prints previously owned by Louis Ribak, along with examples of sumi-e and calligraphy.
John Mulvany, Guest Curator
Clouds Got in the Way: Louis Ribak Scrolls is curated by John Mulvany and made possible through the support of the Beatrice Mandelman and Louis Ribak Legacy Endowment for the Harwood Museum of Art.