In 1967-68, Richard Trinkle began making a group of monochrome paintings that, according to the artist, have deeply affected much of his work since. My role in this brief account is to add to a discussion initiated by Trinkle himself, who has clearly articulated how the series came about and why it matters.
First, the facts. Prior to execution, Trinkle sketched a set of exacting parameters for the series. Each of the tall, narrow canvases would be identical in size (200 x 500 cm), with a central field of primary colour (black, blue, grey, red, white or yellow) bordered by a thin band (3 cm) in any one of those colours, except the colour of the field itself. The series would express all possible colour combinations, totalling 30 paintings. Wrought in a workmanlike, methodical manner, Trinkle would employ five to six coats of conventional, matte acrylic paint, straight out of the tube, and then tape off the interior field in order to render the border bands. The sides of the support were also to be painted, thus helping to ensure a sense of objecthood for the finished products, which would always remain unframed.
By fully establishing the nature, rules and extent of the series beforehand, Trinkle mechanized the process of making them. On this level, these oil paintings may rightly be read within the combined contexts of 60s pop, minimalism and conceptualism, in which notions of seriality and mechanized production were at play, and the boundaries between sculptural and pictorial media were often blurred. However, when considered as a whole, Trinkle’s series is also treatable as a template of colour combinations–a collection of ready-made samples of mundane combinations of hues that is, in some sense, comparable to Gerhard Richter’s Colour Chart series. Indeed, I imagine perusing Trinkle’s 3o oil paintings as if I were surveying commercially available options, perhaps singling out Untitled (Black Monochrome with Red) purely on the basis of a decorative whim. Such a shopping experience recalls patrons selecting Andy Warhol’s “blanks,” the monochrome accompaniments to his silkscreen panels, so that morbid imagery of celebrities or car crashes would be juxtaposed with a rectangle of pleasing colour that matched their living-room decor. Of course, the choice of certain colour combinations might immediately connote a singular symbolic resonance, as in the case of Untitled (White Monochrome with White), which, in its objecthood, might register as a sign of a flag–or as a distillation of Canadianness in a broader sense.
As in the case of fine art reproductions, Trinkle’s monochrome series does indeed address notions of the nominal and the arbitrary–long associated with a postmodern tradition identified with the Duchampian readymade. However, I would argue that Trinkle’s series may productively be placed within another artistic context, one tied to the idea of the artist striving to establish a fresh foothold, a new contract with audiences, based in part on the inclusive language of abstract colour and geometry. Rather than situating the series as an autonomous phenomenon, it seems to me most productive to envision Trinkle’s radically abstract paintings in combination with different elements of his diverse oeuvre. A revealing case in point was a solo show held at Catriona Jeffries in 2007 that featured several of his monochromes, experienced there in complex communication with a concoction of other oil paintings.
Charting a path through the main gallery space, I encountered a playful proliferation of white rectangular forms: a floor-based painted plywood piece, Untitled (White Line) (1969/2007), diagonally pointed past a pole–not a “Trinkle” but rather a load-bearing non-work, fastened to the ground with a square plate, yet rendered in a similarly pedestrian(or, institutional) white–leading me to face a white monochrome with a black border, This painting was hung perfectly parallel to a door of nearly equal length, similarly suspended (on hinges rather than by a nail), yet lower to the ground, leaving only a precisely drawn sliver of shadowy blackness below. The door registered as a kind of pictorial object, particularly given its lack of adornments, like a distracting doorknob. Next to Trinkle’s pairing of these black-and-white rectangles stood a lone black-and-white photograph, Untitled (Intersection) (1970/1995), depicting the silhouetted backs of pedestrians of the past, waiting to cross the street.
Shuffling a bit to the left, I stopped for a while in front of the opening to the adjoining gallery. This pause afforded a new vista, which included another monochrome–black with a grey border–peripherally placed next to the entrance to the room. This dark rectangle played a supplemental but crucial role in my view of Chicago Crosswalk (2007), centrally positioned on the far wall. The latter work includes painted vertical bands of white and red, which frame a silkscreened photographic scene of folks following white vertical bands while traversing the street. Like me in the gallery, these city walkers circulate with alternating degrees of awareness of how geometric bodies affect their movements and lives. In a profound way, my own progression through Trinkle’s exhibition was analogous to everyday urban experiences, especially those occurring at intersections, halting and glancing up at soaring grey office towers–themselves consisting of framing grey bands that border striated black and white lines–vividly rendered here by the artist, along with hard-edged slivers of sky, rendered a pristine and vivid blue in contrast to the dirty, worn-down white rectangles pictured on the pavement.