The Power of Monochromatic:
As part of our forthcoming exhibition The Art of Interiors, we have gone partially monochromatic, using the power of black and white to create a dramatic but sedate and sophisticated ambience.
In light of two recent and illuminating shows on monochromatic works, (Monochromatic: Painting in Black and White at the National Gallery and the Picasso Black and White at the Guggenheim in New York), it’s worth taking a brief look at the power of monochromatic art and what value it holds in the context of art history.
The earliest surviving works of Western art made in grisaille were created in the Medieval Ages for devotional purposes, fast forward to the 20th Century, Kazimir Malevich and artists like him were eliminating colour to create completely abstract pieces. Notoriously, Picasso painted one of his most famous works Guernica in black and white. The emotion and drama of this painting was heightened by the fact the work was devoid of any colour.
So what, couldn't anyone do that?:
By the mid-20th Century artists like Ad Reinhardt eliminated all traces of representation in his predominantly black paintings. When he faced criticism and disdain for what a lot of people thought they could themselves, he summed up the power of his abstractions in a cartoon sketch. A gallery viewer mocks a painting on the wall: "Ha ha what does that represent?" The canvas, comes to life and angrily answers, "What do you represent?"
Monochrome works remain an important way for artists to make abstract work. Yet for others it has come to symbolise everything that is believed to be elitist and difficult about modern and contemporary art. We always have this in mind when preparing our exhibitions, with the aim to break these barriers down.
Monochromatic works in the gallery:
Far from limiting artists, the decision to restrict colour can open up a rich and versatile area of investigation. Gwenyth Fugard in Untitled 006 imposes a series of obstacles, interventions and even accidents while working, Coupled with her powerful use of the simple line and the way the spaces she leaves unpainted are considered as significant as the areas densely painted, her paintings are about the process of painting. With a painting such as Construct 12, she is encouraging us to consider the infinite mutations of white paint (white paint historically represents the absence of colour) and to slow our gaze down and appreciate the texture and surface of the painting rather than what it depicts.
Monochrome works can often lead us to discover something we haven't noticed, or defining something in a new way. Jemma Appleby does this with her immaculate charcoal pieces that high light shadows and the fall of light on components of architecture that frame interiors and buildings in a new way.
Black and white forces us to think. A picture full of colour attracts attention and calls out to be looked at, black and white demands we engage and subjects can actually look better and have more impact when the colour is limited or removed. If we look at the range of an artist like Arnout Killian, his hyper-photo realistic paintings also trigger more abstract monochrome works such as Closed, which while appearing completely abstract do derive from a tangible subject in the real world, in this case the shadowy lines from closed shutters of a bungalow building.
The value of monochrome paintings often lies more in the ideas. Monochrome paintings often draws our attention more to the making of a painting and the materiality of painting, relying on the black/ white contrast to draw attention to the surface of a work, and the structure of things. it also beautifully slots into any interior space with the greatest of ease.