No, it’s not a bug on my website. This week’s featured painting is indeed a black square.
This is one of Ad Reinhardt’s abstract paintings. I used to look at artwork like this and come no further than “Huh… it’s a black square. So what?”. I would even be a bit irritated at artists that proclaim a black square art and sell it for a lot of money. Surely everyone can paint a canvas black?
That was until I learned more about Ad Reinhardt’s approach as part of a MOOC about abstract expressionism and found out that, in fact, Ad Reinhardt did not just quickly smear some black paint on a square canvas. He very elaborately filtered his oil paint to remove the oil, in order to create a deep, matted paint. The oil would have created a shiny surface, reflecting the light. The filtered, concentrated black, however, swallows the light. This he applies with very even and practised brush strokes, leaving scarcely a trace of the brush on the smooth, dark surface.
He did not just cover the canvas in this colour, either. Instead, the canvas is split into nine square fields. You do not see these fields immediately. If you walk past the painting quickly, only giving it a glance, you will not experience its effect. You are meant to linger in front of the painting and look at it for a longer time, allowing the rods in your eyes to adjust to the darkness of the paint. After a little while, you become more sensitive to shades of black, and you begin to realise that there is not just black, but that you are looking at squares of intensely deep shades of red, green or blue
This was my point of connection between the seemingly alien abstract work and my own interests. I am very curious about colours and our human perception of colours, so when I figured out the idea behind these “black” paintings, I was immediately intrigued! In fact, I find it so interesting and exciting that I would very much like to see one of Ad Reinhardt’s paintings in a museum, because the effect just does not come across properly on a computer screen.
From my initial ignorance and irritated dismissal, I have grown. I have moved on to appreciate Ad Reinhardt’s very specific mindset and to be excited by this complex piece of art and the amazing capacities of our eyes.
Have a look at this video to better understand the effect of this black painting.
What are your experiences with abstract paintings?