In The Brooklyn Rail this month, John Yau writes about Robert Ryman. “Ryman�s works quietly but insistently call for enhanced looking, of becoming aware of the relationship between the physical and visual, substance and light. Because he believes in giving as good as he could possibly get in this dialogue between artwork and viewer, he is extremely economical in the way he transfers his heightened sense of light and materiality to the very things he is working on. There is no elaboration�everything feels necessary to the experience. And it is experience, not an idealized definition of painting or the paint plane, that sparks his curiosity. He wants to see something that he hasn�t seen before. This is what he wrote about the work in this exhibition: ‘When I was beginning to work on the small wood panels, I thought I would also do some drawings on Tyvek, an industrial material made of spunbonded Olefin. It is very thin and looks like paper, but is strong and not affected by moisture and repels dust.’ You can�t get more matter-of-fact than that. As William Carlos Williams wrote, ‘No ideas but in things.’�
“Robert Ryman: Large-small, thick-thin, light reflecting, light absorbing,” PaceWildenstein, 57th st, New York February 19 � March 27, 2010.
"And it is experience, not an idealized definition of painting or the paint plane, that sparks his curiosity. He wants to see something that he hasn�t seen before."
By now, Ryman's restless zero-sum game of method and materials seems to be an idealized definition of painting all his own. But I think you're right in saying his interests are rooted in experience.
When I examine his work, I do so in the same manner I would study a tree near a sidewalk or a piece of drywall in a garage. I accept it for exactly what it is and ask nothing of it. What a joy it is to get to do that.