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5 artworks celebrating the color black

Today we are going to talk about black. Often defined as a "non-color," it is usually interpreted as a symbol of absence, mourning, darkness, emptiness, or something unknown. Kandinsky’s words describing Black in his major script, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, are quite indicative: “An eternal silence with no future and no hope,” and “something as motionless as a corpse.”

Although the color black is frequently associated with destructive symbols in our imagination, it plays a central role in culture today by representing communication and expression. The color black shows the path of a pen or pencil as it makes its way across a piece of white paper, thus making it capable of conveying a message. Furthermore, black has been chosen specifically by some painters to communicate their artistic vision, elevating this “non-color” to the protagonist of many canvases.

Let’s discover five artists who celebrate the color black together.

Kazimir Malevich Black Square 1913 © State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

1. Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, 1913

Malevich's Black Square is a simple composition consisting of a perfect black square painted on a white background. It is devoid of any representational elements or references to the external world. The square is positioned diagonally, appearing as if it is floating or suspended in space.

The piece carries profound philosophical and conceptual implications. Malevich saw the Black Square as a symbol of the highest degree of non-objectivity and the rejection of traditional artistic conventions. He believed that art should transcend visual representation and explore the spiritual and cosmic dimensions of human existence.

For Malevich, the Black Square represented a new form of artistic expression that embraced pure feeling and the liberation of art from the constraints of the material world. It represented a break from the past and an opening to a new artistic and social order.

The Black Square is not just the first painting in a new movement, but a totally different kind of art compared to what had been seen before. Malevich promoted pure black as a sign of a new era of art. Malevich didn’t intend for the Black Square to be a representation of a real thing, but rather a symbol of a dawning new age.

Henri Matisse, Porte-fenêtre à Collioure, 1914 © Succession H. Matisse Photo credits : Philippe Migeat - Centre Pompidou

2. Henri Matisse, Porte-fenêtre à Collioure, 1914

Painted in Collioure, the piece was still unfinished when Matisse returned to Paris in October 1914. The central black zone hides an initial portrayal of an open balcony against a black background, making the surrounding colors appear timid or discrete. The bright colors play the role of extras whereas black, the protagonist, occupies the central space and assumes a symbolic value.

This is the only barred window painted by Matisse among the numerous windows he created. In this case, the painting fails to represent an open window to reality - as the Italian Renaissance taught, beginning with Leon Battista Alberti. With this black central stripe, Matisse declares the self-sufficiency of the painting as a reality in itself.

Alberto Burri, Tutto Nero, 1956. Courtesy Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini - Collezione Burri

3. Alberto Burri, Tutto Nero, 1956

The mystery of Tutto Nero is inherent in the radical choice of the non-color par excellence. By isolating black as the primary color, Burri emphasized its transformative power and its ability to evoke emotions and engage viewers in a contemplative experience.

In an unsettling game, the pictorial medium becomes a psychological and emotional vehicle playing on the edge of painting at the limit of visual capabilities.

Just as we need to get used to darkness slowly when entering a room, we need to adjust our gaze when it comes to this dark surface. Observing the piece carefully will gradually reveal an intimate story made up of fabrics, stones, and lines, like a lunar surface observed from a distance.

Jackson Pollock, Number 26 A, Black and White, 1948 © Adagp, Paris Photo credits : Georges Meguerditchian - Centre Pompidou

4. Jackson Pollock, Number 26 A, Black and White, 1948

We all know Pollock for his incredibly colorful and energetic canvases. In this work, the energy is all in the contrast between black and white.

Pollock spreads the canvas on the ground, and just like a poet with ink and white parchment, he begins to write to leave the mark of his own presence, body, and voice as an artist. The result is this impressive canvas, where the color black becomes the instrument he uses to assert his own existence.

Franz Kline, Untitled, 1953. Courtesy of Christie's

5. Franz Kline, Untitled, 1953

In Franz Kline, again, black is an imprint, a testimony, a seal of proud self-assertion. Kline's bold, sharp brushstroke imprints on the canvas in the energy of the black sign the awareness of one's own presence. As for all the protagonists of the action painting, the black sign possesses a subjective, autobiographical value.



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