Lyric Suite

Room for discovery.

Sometime during the initial COVID lockdown, I came across The Artist Project series of videos by The Met, in which artists reflect on a work that inspires them. Each one I’ve watched has moved me to look at a work in a new way. It’s been a while since I visited, and this morning, a series of clicks beginning with an error brought me serendipitously back to Wenda Gu’s reflection on Robert Motherwell’s Lyric Suite, a series of one-thousand works of ink on rice paper, compositions that Wenda Gu describes as “lyric, bleeding ink” hauntingly suggestive of living forms: here a branch, here a horizon, here a suggestion of a person in silhouette, here a protozoa. The idea to use ink on rice paper happened when the artist was stopping by a Japanese store in search of a birthday gift. The paper he saw was called “Dragons and Clouds.” He bought a thousand sheets and decided to try painting without conscious thought. This was April 1965 and by the end of May, Motherwell had done six-hundred of these small paintings on the floor of his studio, all while listening to Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite (1925). Then he lost his best friend, artist David Smith. Motherwell was devastated. He boxed up the rice paper paintings and they stayed in the box for over twenty years. In 1986, Motherwell resumed the series, explaining “I half painted them and they half painted themselves.” Speaking of the harmony of seemingly accidental discovery moving through these paintings, Wenda Gu is quick to observe, “that’s the daily practice.” Here’s to keeping the door open.


Wenda Gu on Robert Motherwell’s Lyric Suite