Why are Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings so influential?

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Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #1136
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #1136

Published on: Wednesday July 17, 2013

Last updated

Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawings

1,350 Wall Drawings in four decades

Over the course of his prolific and influential career, Sol LeWitt (1928–2007) produced approximately 1,350 wall drawings, comprising approximately 3,500 installations at more than 1,200 venues.

Sol LeWitt – Instructions for a Pyramid, Galería OMR, Mexico City, 2017
Sol LeWitt – Instructions for a Pyramid, Galería OMR, Mexico City, 2017

Why did Sol LeWitt let others paint his ideas?

Early in his career, Sol LeWitt began to have others help execute his wall drawings. Wall Drawing 16 was first drawn by a draftsman, which helped LeWitt to realize his work according to his instructions and diagrams, addressing practical concerns such as the time-consuming nature of the drawings. More significantly, however, this choice articulated LeWitt’s belief that the conception of the idea, rather than its execution, constitutes the artwork. He was also rejecting the traditional importance assigned to the artist’s own hand. The artist executed the earliest wall drawings within a square, usually four by four feet (122 x 122 cm) wide, but by 1969 he was using the entire wall, starting with Wall Drawing 16.

Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #16, September 1969, Black pencil, Bands of lines 12 inches (30 cm) wide, in three directions (vertical, horizontal, diagonal right) intersecting.
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #16, September 1969, Black pencil, Bands of lines 12 inches (30 cm) wide, in three directions (vertical, horizontal, diagonal right) intersecting.

The different types of Wall Drawings

The drawings range from layers of straight lines meticulously drawn in black graphite pencil lead, to rows of delicately rendered wavy lines in colored pencil; from bold black-and-white geometric forms, to bright planes in acrylic paint arranged like panels of a folding screen; from sensuous drawings created by dozens of layers of transparent washes, to a tangle of vibratory orange lines on a green wall, and much more. Forms may appear to be flat, to recede into space, or to project into the viewer’s space, while others meld into the structure of the wall itself.

Sol Lewitt - Exhibition Pyramides, Marian Goodman, Paris, Nov 17, 2012 – Jan 19, 2013
Sol Lewitt – installation view of the exhibition Pyramides, Marian Goodman, Paris, Nov 17, 2012 – Jan 19, 2013

Sol LeWitt: Anyone can do art

Since Sol LeWitt did not like public speaking, when he visited and lectured at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1971, he did not want to lecture the students and instead opted to make a drawing with them. The wall drawing that ensued, as a result, included poetic-styled instructions for a wall drawing. Sol LeWitt thought that anyone could do art but the quality depended on the idea from which art was generated. As such, writing down instructions for interpretation to create their own version of a wall drawing was an important part of the creating process.

Sol LeWitt – Lines of One Inch, Four Directions, Four Colours (set of 16), 1971
Sol LeWitt – Lines of One Inch, Four Directions, Four Colours (set of 16), 1971, Lithograph on paper, 35,6 x 35,6 cm

Sol LeWitt’s instructions

Early in his career, Sol LeWitt started using the instructions to define his incredible conceptual wall drawings, representing the ideas that became a work of art in itself. Following the idea of conceptualism or conceptual art1 where the main concern is the artist’s ideas, Sol LeWitt started his wall drawings with an idea put into words as instructions. Sol LeWitt focused on the concept over construction and hence created his most renowned instruction-based artworks.

Instructions open to interpretation

Based on this focus, Sol LeWitt believed that the artist’s idea was a work of art in itself and could be considered a blueprint such as that developed by an architect and based on the idea, other people could interpret it and make it. He transformed the artistic process elements into works of art themselves. His most recognizable art, his wall drawings, are an installation created from his unique instructions. The instructions were not precise such as blueprints but were open to interpretation by creators.

What the instructions entailed

Sol LeWitt’s instructions consisted of directions for the production of a work of art itself and a refined vocabulary of visual art hinting at architectural specifications and mathematical equations. As such, the directions included also, basic colors, lines and simplified shapes employed according to his own invented formulae. The instructions were relatively simple and since they are open to interpretation, no two art works created by different artists based on the same instructions by Sol LeWitt are the same.

About the Artist

Sol LeWitt was a renowned American conceptual artist and painter, born in 1928 and died in 2007. Best known for his colorful Wall Drawings which is an exploration between the architecture and the work itself, he prided himself in the creation of art, not in its meaning or material formulation. He served in the Korean War and after opened a studio in NYC working at Seventeen magazine2 to explore his interest in creating designs.

Portrait of Sol LeWitt with cat
Portrait of Sol LeWitt with cat

Why is Sol LeWitt important?

LeWitt, who stressed the idea behind his work over its execution, is widely regarded as one of the leading exponents of Minimalism and Conceptual art and is known primarily for his deceptively simple geometric structures and architecturally scaled wall drawings. His experiments with the latter commenced in 1968 and were considered radical, in part because this new form of drawing was purposely temporary and due to the collaborative element.

Video: How did Sol LeWitt work?

Sol LeWitt how he worked and what kind of man he was, as remembered by his former assistant Jeremy Ziemman and the curator of the Sol Lewitt Collection, Janet Passehl.

4min 2sec

Wall Drawings

1970s

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing #122 (1972)
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #122, 1972, Black pencil grid, blue crayon arcs and lines, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing 238
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #238, June 1974, Black pencil and black crayon, LeWitt Collection, Chester, Connecticut

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #260 at San Francisco Museum of Art, 1975
Photo: Rudy Bender/sfmoma.org

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #260
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #260, 1975

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing 280
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #280, 1976
A six-inch (15cm) grid covering a yellow wall. Blue lines from the four corners, red lines from the midpoints of the four sides, white lines from the center to points on the grid.

1980s

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing 340, July 1980
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #340, July 1980

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing 343A,B,C,D,E,F
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #343A,B,C,D,E,F, December 1980, White crayon on black wall

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing 343G
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #343 G, December 1980, White crayon on black wall

Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing #354, 1981 ink, Basel
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #354, 1981, ink, Basel, Switzerland
Photo: Fabio Fabbrini/fondationbeyeler.ch

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #346
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #346, 1981, india ink

Sol Lewitt - Wall Drawing #356 BB, Cube Without a Cube
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #356 BB, Cube Without a Cube, 1981, ink

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #366
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #366, 1982

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #368
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #368, 1982

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #370, installation view in Gallery 399 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, August, 2014
Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #370, 1982, installation view in Gallery 399 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, August, 2014

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #370
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #370, 1982, installation view in Gallery 399 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, August, 2014

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing 386
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #386, 1983, india ink wash and color ink wash
Stars with three-, four-, five-, six-, seven-, eight-, and nine-points, drawn with a light tone India ink wash inside, an India ink wash outside, separated by a six-inch (15 cm) white band (A-G)

Wall Drawing #393 (1983)
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #393, 1983, Red, yellow, blue, and black crayon with black pencil grid on white wall, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing #397
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #397, 1983, ART, a Hotel, Denver, CO

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing 413
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #413, 1984, color ink wash
Drawing Series IV (A) (24 drawings)


Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing #442, Performance Hall Foyer, Yale-NUS College
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #442, 1985, Performance Hall Foyer, Yale-NUS College
Photo: David Zhang/yale.edu

Sol Lewitt - Wall Drawing 467
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #467, 1985, Marian Goodman Gallery

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing #463, January 1986 India ink wash
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #463, January 1986, india ink wash

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing
Sol LeWitt – L-R: Wall Drawing #483, Wall Drawing #487, Wall Drawing #485 at Magasin – Centre National d’Art Contemporain de Grenoble, France, 1986
Photo: Quentin Bertoux

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing 528 G
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #528 G, 1987, Color ink washes superimposed on wall

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing #564-  Complex forms with color ink washes superimposed,’ (1988) Paula Cooper Gallery, Sept 2013.
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #564, Complex forms with color ink washes superimposed, 1988, at Paula Cooper Gallery, Sept 2013.

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing 579
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #579, November 1988, Color ink wash, Private collection, New York

Sol LeWitt - Wall drawing 620
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #620, 1989, Fundación Botín, Santander, Spain
Form derived from a cubic rectangle, with colour ink washes superimposed.

1990s

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #631
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #631, 1990, india ink

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing 711, 1992, Musée de Picardie, Amiens, France
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #711, 1992, Musée de Picardie, Amiens, France
Photo: Fœtal ( Eric M.)/flickr.com

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing 711, 1992, Musée de Picardie, Amiens, France
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #711, 1992, Musée de Picardie, Amiens, France

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing 711, 1992, Musée de Picardie, Amiens, France
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #711, 1992, Musée de Picardie, Amiens, France

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing 681c, August 1993, Color ink wash
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #681, August 1993, Color ink wash

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing # 721, Wavy Horzontal Bands of Color
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #721, 1993, Wavy Horzontal Bands of Color, Zürich, Switzerland
Photo: Lorenz Ehrismann/visarte.ch

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing 793B
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing 793B, January 1996, Color ink wash

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing 822
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing 822, April 1997, Acrylic Paint

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #831
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #831, 1997 (Geometric Forms), acrylic

Sol LeWitt - Wall drawing 869
Sol LeWitt – Wall drawing #869, 1998
Copied Lines. From the top of a 48-inch (122 cm) square, draw a not straight horizontal line. The line is black. The second line is drawn beneath the first line, as close as possible, imitating the first line. The next line is drawn beneath the second line. Continue copying, until the bottom of the square is reached
Marker or crayon, pencil

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #879
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #879, 1998, Loopy Doopy (black and white), acrylic

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing 880
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing 880, Loopy Doopy (orange and green), september 1998, Acrylic paint, Addison Gallery of American Art

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #836
Sol LeWitt – Wall drawing #836, 1998, Bonnefantenmuseum, 2011
Photo: Peter Cox

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing 915
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #915, September 1999, Acrylic paint

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing #614
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #614, 1999, Fundación Botín, Santander, Spain

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #901
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #901, 1999, Bonnefantenmuseum, 2011
Photo: Peter Cox

2000s

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing 1005
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #1005, Isometric form. December 2001, Acrylic paint

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing 1037
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #1037, April 2002, Acrylic paint

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing 1042
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #1042, May 2002, Acrylic paint

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing #1113, at Hirshhorn Museum
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #1113, 2003, Hirshhorn Museum

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing 1081
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #1081, March 2003, Acrylic paint

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing 1138
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #1138: Forms composed of bands of color, 2004, Acrylic paint, Lisson Gallery, London

Sol Lewitt - Wall Drawing #1118
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #1118, Whirls, 2004, acrylic paint, 125 1/4 x 280 3/4 inc, Crown Center Neighborhood, Kansas City, USA

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing #1131, Whirls and Twirls (Wadsworth), 2004, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #1131, Whirls and Twirls (Wadsworth), 2004, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut
Photo: Wadsworth Museum of Art/thewadsworth.org

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #1183
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #1183, 2005, acrylic paint, Bonnefantenmuseum, 2011
Photo: Peter Cox

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #1183
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #1183, 2005, acrylic paint, Bonnefantenmuseum, 2011
Photo: Peter Cox

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing 1152
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #1152, Whirls and Twirls (Met), April 2005, Acrylic Paint, LeWitt Collection, Chester, Connecticut

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing 1185, Graphite, October 2005
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #1185, Graphite, October 2005

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing 1186
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #1186, October 2005, Graphite, Collection of Alessandro Maccaferri

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing 1238, Whirls and Twirls, 2007
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #1238, Whirls and Twirls, 2007, John and Mary Pappajohn Education Center, 1200 Grand Avenue, Des Moines

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing 1238, Whirls and Twirls, 2007
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #1238, Whirls and Twirls (detail), 2007, John and Mary Pappajohn Education Center, 1200 Grand Avenue, Des Moines

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing 1256
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #1256, United States Embassy in Berlin, Germany, February 2008, Acrylic paint, 457x914cm

Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing 1261
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #1261, July 2008, Graphite, designated for Yale University Art Gallery

All images by the Estate of Sol LeWitt/ARS/lewittcollection.org unless otherwise noted.

More

More by Sol LeWitt

Related works

Related readings
  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conceptual_art
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seventeen_(American_magazine)
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