White and Black

Across many cultures, white is usually considered as a positive colour, while black is often associated with negativity and evil. However, these are broad generalisations.

White on White by MalevichFor all its brightness, clean appearance, symbolic purity and peace, white can be as negative a colour as any. Think of hospitals, for instance.

For Malevich, white and black are the purest of colours, symbols of the absolute, since all colours in equal amount are contained in them. Malevich also considered the square to be the perfect shape by excellence. Hence White on White aims to depict utmost purity and perfection. However, with every attempt at an ideal comes the tension between utopia and reality. While the canvas focuses on perfection, it also conveys drama and depression through its bleak, livid appearance. This tension in Malevich’s work is, for me, what makes it so fascinating and endlessly interesting.

New Piece by Tony SmithBlack, on the other hand, despite its sinister, gloomy, uninviting connotations, offers a quiet, restful depth and an undeniable presence that can be quite absorbing and soothing. Who has not looked at a starry night sky in awe at the beauty and secrecy of the universe?

Part of the appeal of many of Tony Smith’s sculptures is undoubtedly the complete blackness that shrouds them in irresistible mystery. New Piece and Die in particular leave you wondering what is inside, what amazing world lies beyond the dark steel surface; it arouses curiosity and you simply want to walk in and explore – if only one could…

The emotions that may emanate from a particular colour are of course very subjective and dependent on many factors, not least culture, as this wheel illustrates.

Photos: White on White by Kasimir Malevich (www.mariabuszek.com) and New Piece by Tony Smith (www.matthewmarks.com)


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