Elegant simplicity and a rigorously classical geometry have been hallmarks of Robert Mangold's work for more than forty years. Mangold was born outside of Buffalo, New York and began his studies at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Visiting the Carnegie International Exhibition in Pittsburgh in 1958, the artist experienced a revelation when he saw the work of the New York School painters, in particular Adolph Gottlieb, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still. Later that year, Mangold attended summer classes at Yale University and despite his reticence over its Josef Albers-based curriculum, enrolled there in 1960. Yale was a crucible of creativity during these years and his instructors were Alex Katz, NA, Jon Schueler, NA, and Jack Tworkov, while fellow students included future Academicians, Brice Marden, Chuck Close, Rackstraw Downes, and Janet Fish, among others. Mangold graduated with a BFA in 1961 and completed his MFA in 1963.
In 1962, Mangold moved to New York with his wife, Sylvia Plimack Mangold, NA, who had also been a student at Yale. He worked at the Museum of Modern Art, first as a guard and then in the museum's library, bringing him into daily contact with some of the most influential modern and contemporary art. By the mid-1960s Mangold was exhibiting architectonic constructions that resembled sections of walls and recalled Donald Judd's declaration that: "Half or more of the best new work in the last years has been neither painting nor sculpture. Usually, it has been related, closely or distantly, to one or the other." It was at this moment of dogmatic Minimalist rhetoric, however, that Mangold was drawn further into painting and began working on shaped monochromatic canvases. In 1971 he was honored with a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum and throughout the decade his work took on an increasingly Vitruvian connotation through the combination of shaped canvases with circles and ellipses. Architectonic qualities reappeared in the early 1980s through his combination of rectangular canvases to form colorful shapes in the +, X, and Color Frame series, and in the succeeding decade the artist returned to a more reductive vocabulary of ellipses and shaped canvases.
Drawing is critical to Mangold's working method and an important part of his painting process. Often initially creating a small sketch for a work, the artist will enlarge it to medium scale before ultimately realizing it in larger scale. "Frieze Study I" comes from a series of drawings executed in the mid-1990s that followed on ideas of the arabesque he was pursuing in his Curled Figure Paintings of the same period. These drawings also served as a precursor to his current Column Series paintings. In "Frieze Study I" two sheets of standard-sized paper are joined at their edges, recalling a similar practice the artist used in the 1960s with plywood and masonite. Mangold has created a gray trapezoid shape that increases in height from left to right and is overlaid with a continuous line of four graceful, vertically-oriented loops that at once suggest a music like cadence as well as a graceful, rhythmic physical movement.