In the late 1940s, several prominent artists of the New York School– including Robert Rauschenberg, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko and Frank Stella–were intently studying the color black. That work, interrelated but not collaborative, resulted in 20 years of black: textured black, striped black, blue-black, brown-black, black-black, blackish, and blackity-black-black paintings.
With a Google image search, Ad Reinhard’s paintings look like a series of Pantone black swatches. Closer examination reveals Reinhard plays with internal structures, delineated by sheen shifts. Ad Reinhardt once said, “There is a black which is old and a black which is fresh. Lustrous black and dull black, black in sunlight and black in shadow.” To create the work, Reinhardt mixed black oil paint with small amounts of red, green, or blue and allowed the paint to sit for several weeks in order to separate the pigment from the solvent. He would then pour out the solvent and use the remaining concentrated paint to apply a completely smooth, matte surface that left no trace of the artist’s brush. Reinhardt explained that he hoped to achieve “a pure, abstract, non-objective, timeless, spaceless, changeless, relationless, disinterested painting—an object that is self-conscious (no unconsciousness), ideal, transcendent, aware of no thing but art.”
Frank Stella was a painter and printmaker. His series of black prints closely relate to a series of large works known as the Black Paintings, painted between 1958 and 1960. Each lithograph features a pattern of rectilinear stripes of uniform width printed in metallic black ink on buff-tinted paper.
“All I want anyone to get out of my [works] and all I ever get out of them is the fact that you can see the whole idea without any confusion. What you see is what you see.” –Frank Stella, 1964
Beginning in 1964, Rothko began painting a series of black paintings, which incorporated other dark hues and texture effects. Rothko painted this series of 14 large black paintings for a non-denominational chapel in Houston Texas. Through these paintings, he wanted to express a meditative emptiness. In the chapel, three walls display triptychs, while the other five walls display single paintings. A typical question raised by visitors viewing the massive black canvases which adorn the walls of the chapel includes some variant of: “Where are the paintings?” The hue of the paintings vary on the lightning of the moment of the day.
Milton Ernest "Robert" Rauschenberg
I had heard of Rauschenberg’s Black Paintings, but until recently I’d never actually looked at them. I had thought they were black, just… you know… black. I had heard artists talk about the subtleties of black. I imagined they’d be like Rothko’s chapel paintings, only with thicker paint and Rauschenberg’s informal brush strokes. I was wrong. I completely underestimated them. I see them now, and see they are black, and they are not black. This addition of not black adds loads of potential. And there’s cracking, falling off, and wrinkling. They have texture and movement and even composition. Who knew? I quite like them.
Winter Solstice is Thursday, December 21, 2017 at 8:27 am in Seattle. This day brings us 7 hours, 34 minutes less light than on June Solstice.
Have a deep, dark, depressing solstice. It only gets brighter from here!