In Praise of Monochrome

by Alden Cole on August 7, 2016 · 0 comments

“If I could put it in words, there would be no reason to paint.” – Edward Hopper (22 Jul 1882 – 15 May 1967)

LikeABride1stStateWPDrawing and painting in white monochrome on a dark surface, whether paper, panel or canvas, has been an area of interest to me for a number of years. Early in my post-fashion illustration explorations, I did a lot drawing on paper, either black or dark blue in tone, using colored pencils, as featured in a number of these postings going back a year or more, detailing the work of the mid-70s. The first experiences painting in monochrome were when I studied Mischtechnik with Linda Gardner. Above is the vibrant first stage of a painting from that time using white egg tempera over a base of Venetian red. Although I went on to add color to this painting, I was almost loath to do so because I found this state so expressive.

MeMyself&IWPI didn’t return to exploring variations on this technique until 2006 when I started the pair of pendant paintings at left and below. Me, Myself & I • oils on linen, 27″ x 36″ • collection of the artist. Although my original 2006 intent was a figure painting with normal skin tones, by the time I brought the work to its present state in 2012, I felt it was as finished as it needed to be, saying what I wanted it to say, without being slavishly realistic. This was confirmed two years later when Kate Mellina selected this particular painting for inclusion in her and Dave Christopher’s photo essay on my digs featured in their website, Unexpected Philadelphia. Thank you Kate!

Me&MyShadowWPMe and My Shadow Walking by the Seashore • oils on linen, 26″ x 36″ • collection of the artist. Although started in 2006, the same year as the above painting, this one did not come to completion until last week, 27 July, when I finished it especially for submission to the DaVinci Art Alliance’s Second Language August show, spinning off on Edward Hopper’s timeless comment quoted above. Whereas Me, Myself & I, the painting above, made the DVAA’s juried cut, this one did not. Nevertheless I find this latest effort one of the most interesting paintings of my career, combining as it does the realistic and the metaphorical in ways that defy easy verbal description or pat psychological definition.

4931ALa Mer • white acrylic on pine boards, 16″ x 21″. At left is a painting done in 2013, the first done with white pigment exclusively on natural wood, and left in that seemingly unfinished state. The variations available using just white paint astounded me, convincing me to leave the panel as it was after just one session; a feeling confirmed by patron Betsy Alexander when I sent her photos of the piece. I deemed it expressive enough of my intent to convey some of the surging motion suggested by Debussy in his timeless musical composition of the same name, from around 1906.

XanaduWPZanadu, Land of Mystery • white acrylic on pine panel salvaged from a harmonium headed for the landfill, 11″ x 45″ • collection of the artist. This panel was the first of this year’s explorations of the medium back in the spring, again convincing me to leave the panel as is, instead of colorizing it, because of its powerful simplicity.

Conversation1WPConversation 1 • white acrylic on oak panel, 7″ x 10″ • collection of the artist. A couple weeks ago I started a another series of experiments using only white pigment on street-found panels. The challenge of creating form with just one color is fascinating to
SketchonBlackWPme, as well as providing an education in what are ultimately ancient techniques of artistic expression.
Above left is a white-pencil sketch on 7″ x 12″ black paper, created three weeks ago, now in the collection of Elena Ortiz, which was my
SeaWatchers2WPfirst draft of an idea that led in turn to the panel painting featured at left:
Sea Watchers #2 • white acrylic on found walnut panel, 17″ x 24″ • collection of the artist. This piece was also submitted to the DVAA Second Language juried show, but like Me & My Shadow, did not make the cut. Inspired by this piece
2.Couple19Jul16WPanyway, I went on to create two more sketches on black paper dealing with similar themes of connectedness, which will probably make their way onto more substantial surfaces than paper at some point in the future. There’s a softness of texture to these drawings
3.Couple20Jul16WPon black that I simply love, which is why I continue to explore this medium which I played with forty years ago, and which still holds a special place of affection in my work to this day.

Lighthouse_Stages1&2WPLighthouse • white acrylic on walnut panel (repurposed drawer front), 7″ x 34.5″, colorized with oil paints. One of my latest experiments with monochrome glazed with very thin washes of color.

SkylineCafeTable20x54WPPhiladelphia Skyline #11 • acrylic on found coffee-table, 20″ x 54″ • collection of the artist. In the spring of 2014, returning home from the Acme Supermarket, I found a discarded coffee-table, with only two legs still attached, sitting jauntily on the sidewalk awaiting trash-day. The top was heavier than I realized at first sight, but the prospect of such a nice large solid surface to paint on fired up my energy levels, giving me the extra strength to hoist and schlepp the found table the several blocks remaining to my door, along with the groceries I had purchased. The next day, as I prepared the surface to work on, I surprised myself at just how heavy a piece of furniture I had acquired the night before in my travels.

CafeTableInPlaceWPThe painting of the city-scape in monochrome happened rather quickly, in just three days time, inspired by the panoramic nature of the project. Although my original intent had been to colorize the painting, once the idea was brought to the present stage, I liked the simplicity of style, and decided to leave the work at its present stage. Finding a complete set of four legs, I refitted the object to its original purpose as a coffee-table, seen here in the guest room on the third floor.

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