Edda Renouf

Autumn Sounds I, 1978-81

Included in the exhibition: Echoes of Laocoön

“For me there is a language in the structure of the linen canvas which I would like to make visible. Since the early canvases and textiles of Mesopotamia, Egypt or the Copts there exists a language that draws its similarities from its structure – leading to a kind of archetypal imagery.”

– Edda Renouf

With over seventy-five museums around the world holding Edda Renouf’s work in their collections, one would assume she would be a relatively known figure – at least in the art world. Her impressive biography reads like that of many other successful artists: born in Mexico City, she studied under the abstract expressionist painter Richard Pousette-Dart and attended a number of prestigious art institutions including the Académie Julian in Paris, the Academie der Bildende Künste in Munich, and obtained her Master of Fine Arts from Colombia University in New York. Her first exhibition was with the legendary gallerist Yvon Lambert in Paris (1972), followed two years later by a show at the equally legendary Konrad Fischer Gallery in Dusseldorf. She developed close friendships with collectors such as Herbert and Dorothy Vogel, to whom she was introduced by Richard Tuttle and whom she helped acquire works by Joseph Beuys. 

Edda Renouf - Autumn Sounds I, 1978-81 at at ILEANA Contemporary Art Gallery in Brisbane, Australia

Autumn Sounds I, 1978-81
signed, titled and dated on the overlap
acrylic on linen, with removed threads
40.5 by 40.5 cm.

Galerie 1900-2000, Paris
Private Collection, Brussels

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But much more impressive than her biography is Edda Renouf’s original oeuvre. Working within the visual language of minimalism, Renouf explored the material nature of painting by focussing on an aspect that has traditionally been overlooked: the canvas. Whereas most minimal artists focussed on the painted surface or the shape of the canvas, Edda Renouf turned towards the materiality of the canvas itself, bringing forward the inherent geometries of the fabric weave. 

Renouf was always drawn to textiles, and fondly recalls the linen curtain that covered the skylight above her bed in Mexico where she grew up. But her artistic interest in the material was particularly influenced by Paul Klee, who was obsessed with the textures of different fabrics and deliberately tried to make visible the fabric weave in his work. Renouf’s elaborate yet subtle process involved the removal of individual threads from the canvas, applying several layers of paint, and finally sanding them down again. This technique highlighted the areas where the threads had been removed, as the recesses were unaffected by the sandpaper. Moveover, it emphasised the inherent patterns within the canvas itself, as the paint would seep into its recesses whilst the protruding fabric was sanded down. 

Although her original technique utilises the same materials as most paintings (paint and canvas), it is decidedly unpainterly. The compositional elements in Edda Renouf’s work are all situated in the fabric of the support, not the paint. This makes Edda Renouf’s practice more closely related to the generations of artists  who rejected traditional oil painting and its patriarchal associations. Just as Rosemarie Trockel engaged with painting’s masculine history by turning towards knitting, so Edda Renouf approaches the medium by altering the fabric and highlighting its compositional potential. 

Edda Renouf’s material concerns with painting were matched with immaterial interests in the form of time and music. Most of her paintings refer to this through their titles, as in the case of Autumn Sounds I. The ochre colour of the paint echoes the seasonal reference of the title, whilst the pattern of the removed canvas threads seem to resemble the rain falling down from the sky.

Edda Renouf with Herbert and Dorothy Vogel, New York at ILEANA Contemporary Art Gallery in Brisbane, Australia

Edda Renouf (right) with Herbert and Dorothy Vogel, New York 1982

“Essential to my paintings and drawings is the revealing of an abstract structure and energy inherent to my materials, the linen canvas and cotton paper. In my paintings, after holding a stretched canvas up to the light, which allows me to see the movement of the weave, I am inspired to remove certain threads which in some works I also then reapply. I continue by priming the canvas and then apply several thin coats of acrylic paint. This is followed by a careful sanding of the surface that again makes visible the organic and geometric structures within the linen material. In my drawings I incise lines with an etching point to remove particles of paper before applying sometimes several layers of chalk or oil pastel. Breaking away from the traditional approach to linen and paper, which are usually used as grounds on which to paint an image, my working process reveals and uncovers the organic life and abstract energy within the materials.

In removing threads from the linen canvas and incising and scraping lines in the paper, various juxtapositions basic to the life of the art works become visible: for example, the positive areas of the ground versus the negative spaces created by the extraction of threads in my paintings or of particles of paper in the drawings; the contrast between the geometry of the stretcher bars I use for my paintings and the organic flexibility of the linen fiber of the canvas; the difference between the crisp scraped lines in my drawings versus the uneven more organic incised lines; or the contrast between the well defined lines created by removed and applied threads in my paintings versus the aleatory, cloud-like areas of color that have been sanded. I have defined the coming together of these juxtaposed contrasting qualities as analogous to the rational and irrational, that is, the Apollonian and Dionysian forces of life and existence.”

– Edda Renouf

Edda Renouf at ILEANA Contemporary Art Gallery in Brisbane, Australia

Edda Renouf, Flight II, 1979-80, acrylic on linen with removed threads, 213 by 213 cm. 
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Edda Renouf at ILEANA Contemporary Art Gallery in Brisbane, Australia

Edda Renouf, Cluster Sound Piece, 1977, acrylic on linen with removed threads,149 by 149 cm. 
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Edda Renouf was born in New Mexico, and worked between New York and Paris. Her work is in the collections of over 75 museums around the world, including the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, Centre Pompidou in Paris, Louisiana Museum in Denmark, Metropolitan Museum and Museum of Modern Art in New York, National Gallery of Art in Washington, Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

Selected collections
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
British Museum, London
Brooklyn Museum, New York
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
Collection Lambert, Avignon
FRAC Pays de la Loire, Carquefou
Honolulu Academy of Arts, Honolulu
Kunstmuseum Winthertur, Switzerland
Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek
Metropolitan Museum, New York
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Museum of Modern Art, New York
National Gallery, Washington
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
RISD Museum, Rhode Island
Seattle Art Museum
Tel Aviv Museum of Art
Walker Art Center
Whitney Museum, New York

Selected solo exhibitions
2020 Barbara Mathes, New York
2017 Annely Juda, London
2015 Galerie 1900-2000, Paris
2004 Museum of Woman in Arts, Washington
1995 University of Michigan Museum
1993 Yvon Lambert, Paris
1980 Margo Leavin, Los Angeles
1979 Konrad Fischer, Dusseldorf
1978 Young Hoffman, Chicago
1978 Ugo Feranti, Rome
1974 Konrad Fischer, Dusseldorf
1972 Yvon Lambert, Paris

View full list on the artist’s website