Thursday, 31 March 2011

Black a colour or an ideal?

Untitled (I am invisible man) Glen Ligon 1992

People don’t often come to my studio, but I’ll grab the opportunity when these occasions arise. Last week I got talking to a studio neighbour about colour, she like myself has a limited palette, white, white and white again… Her choice was about the idea of non-colours, a ‘matter of factness’ attributed to the way we interact with black and white on a daily basis – generally text. I’ve been told many times that black isn't a colour, is there such a thing as a non-colour?

In an interview between artist Glen Ligon and Patricia Bickers, the artist describes black and white as a consequence of the text that he literally transcribes on his paintings. This lends itself to that ‘matter of factness’ I mentioned earlier. But the sheer quantity of copying, transforms the content into something unreadable/unseen – which he says is the main objective: drawing attention to the largely ignored writings of several black authors.

Historian Michel Pastoureau poses that black is indeed a colour, decentring the Newtonian scientific spectrum as one of many systems for classifying colours. From his perspective…

It is society that “makes” the colour, that gives it its definitions and meanings, that constructs its codes and values, that organises its customs and determines its stakes

I’m inclined to agree with this. Of course I go back to my trusty MIT readers (cus I love em). ‘Colour’ edited by David Batchelor includes an essay by Theodor Adorno. In 1970 he proposed that the colour of radical art was ‘black’, because it signalled an impoverishment, a stripping down of fripperies more relevant to the extreme darkness of ‘social reality’. As a way of combating the inequities of society, black was an ideal…

Never having been a colourist, I feel torn by these two propositions. There is nothing ‘non’ about black in my eyes but as an idea, as a socio political umbrella – makes me want to make a canopy…

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