abstract art, a systems view

the monochrome as system

with 2 comments

I am enjoying the book Monochromes, from malevich to the present, by barbara rose


created and edited by Valeria Varas and Raul Rispa, first published on the occasion of the exhibition of the same name organised by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid 2004.

I tend to feel dubious about a book that starts out with the words “this book takes an innovative organizational approach”. If it’s that innovative surely they don’t need to tell me. Although they make the mistake of bringing my attention to it, it is innovative; it is organised so that it interconnects, like a system.

One organising principle is the use of colours as theme, black, red, blue, gold and white. I like that the cover is reminiscent of Yves Klein’s famous International Klein Blue.

Barbara Rose credits Klein with the discovery of the power of the monochrome to displace attention from the art object to the exhibition space, emphasising the interdependence of artwork and context. This is one of the ways in which the monochrome could be thought of as systemic. Also, artists who make or have made them often employ a systems approach to producing the work.

Many years ago, for possibly a whole year (and painting every day) I painted little else but monochromes. I was young, and some people would criticise me for ‘painting like an old man’ (“this is the kind of painting I would expect someone to do at the end of their artistic career “).

Way back then, I thought I was making ‘content free’ paintings. What became interesting in the long series of monochromes were the subtle differences between each one. The paintings were best seen together (as a system) and those subtle differences started to look less and less subtle after all. The patterns that connected them were as much to do with the differences as they were the similarities. I got into the habit of always showing them in pairs, I can’t believe now that I had overlooked the autobiographical content: being an identical twin myself, I experienced first hand that what becomes more interesting than the similarities between twins are the differences, much more easily noticed when they are together than when they are apart.

Written by Andy Parkinson

July 21, 2011 at 7:44 am

2 Responses

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  1. It amazes me how some still try to pigeon hole people, the need to have monochromes at the end of your career. Who on earth decides, the frame of reference for that!

    I must admit, it is my least favourite forms of art, and Im barely understanding its link as a system, guess thats why I need to read the book.

    Last time I was at the tate, Picassos pattern block circle art, is so simple, it still has me thinking about it today! how art can do that! I also love Matisse and his use of monochrome images albeit as a pattern, like his blue woman, it tends to invoke my brain cells into action

    Stuart Harker

    July 21, 2011 at 8:25 am

    • Hi Stuart
      thanks for your interest and your comment.
      Well Rodchenko certainly thought of his monochromes as the end of easel painting, after all the birth of easel painting coincided (that’s probably a gross understatement) with the rise of capitalism. So in 1921 his three monochrome canvases signalled both the end of capitalism as a result of the Russian revolution and also the death of painting. We could trace the history of the tradition as a history of pronouncements of the end of painting. So usually they do get thought of as an ending. Sean Scully seems to suggest that they could be a beginning and that’s how I like to think of them, but a beginning that follows the end.

      Andy Parkinson

      July 26, 2011 at 4:54 pm

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