The Power of Monochrome.

Lisa Norris Gallery
Apr 27, 2018 10:26AM

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), its worth taking a brief look at the power of monochromatic art and what value it holds in the context of art history.

Pablo Picasso, Guernica, oil on canvas 1937

Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, oil on canvas, 1915

The earliest surviving works of Western art made in grisaille were created in the Medieval Ages for devotional purposes, fast forward to the 20th Cenutry, 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 Rheinhardt eliminated all traces of representation in his predominantly black paintings.  When he faced criticism and disdain for what alot 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?"

Ad Reinhardt: Cartoon sketch

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 is mind when prepapring our exhibitions, with the aim to break these barriers down.

Installation shot: The Art of Interiors

Jemma Appleby
#1301115, 2015
Lisa Norris Gallery

Monochrome works can often lead us to discover something we havent noticed, or defining something in a new way.  Jemma Appleby does this with her immaculate charcoal pieces that highlight shadows and the fall of light on components of architecture that frame interiors and buildings in a new way.

Arnout Killian
Lisa Norris Gallery

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-photorealistic paintings also trigger more abstract, monochrome works such as Closed, which while appearing completely abstract, does 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.  They draw our attention more to the making of a painting and the materiality of paint, 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.

The Art of Interiors opens on the 9th May 2018.

Lisa Norris Gallery