A German Painter Creates an Abstract World Using a Single Pigment
“Multi,” from the Latin word multus, means “many,” while “mono” comes from the Greek mónos, meaning “alone.” So “Multimono”—the title of a new exhibition by Daniel Lergon, opening this September at Galerie Christian Lethert in Cologne—sounds like an oxymoron.
Contradiction is central to Lergon’s practice. Unlike most self-described painters, the German-born artist rarely works with paint. Instead, he has previously relied on lacquer or a mix of water and elemental materials, like powdered copper and zinc. For his new show, he uses actual paint—but only a single pigment.
Not that you’d guess it by viewing one of his recent paintings. The shades range from shimmering emerald to rich olive green, from night-vision green to a dark, inky hue that’s almost black. Lergon created these colors, and many shades between, with one pigment: phtalocyanine green.
The concept calls to mind the traditional technique of grisaille (oil paintings rendered entirely in shades of gray) used by Old Masters such as Pieter Brueghel the Elder and Hieronymus Bosch. Grisaille is better known than its cousin, verdaille—paintings, like Lergon’s, that are produced solely in shades of green.
Originally, verdaille was a technique used on stained glass in 12th-century Cistercian monasteries, which forbade the use of vibrant colors so as not to distract from the sanctity of the church. Thus, in early examples en verdaille, the restrained greens are subtle and subdued. But Lergon pushes past the traditional boundaries, and his expression of the same technique is comparatively brazen.
Color has range and depth in Lergon’s paintings. The paint itself has a textural feel, as it is applied to the canvas with thick brushstrokes and cut away with a scraper. Indeed, his verdaille paintings look almost three-dimensional, like creatures under a microscope.
It’s a fitting choice for an artist who has often said he finds inspiration in the natural world. The lush colors and organic shapes in his recent work, though abstract, evoke ocean waves and gnarled tree branches—striking proof of the possibilities of monochromatic painting.
“Daniel Lergon: Multimono” is on view at Galerie Christian Lethert, Cologne, Sept. 2–Oct. 15, 2016.