We’re all (hopefully) familiar with the colour wheel; we’ve been taught how to use it, and how not to use it, and learned what colours compliment, and which don’t work so well. Whilst I am a huge fan of bright, bold primary colours and using vivid yet limited colour palettes, I get the feeling that black and white are underestimated.
The Impressionists were against using white in their paintings. A ‘white’ object, when painted, is never truly white; it in fact reflects all of the colours, light and shadows around it. Shadows are never truly ‘black’; but try trying to paint a rich deep, darker-than-grey shade without black, and it’s never quite rich enough.
Ignoring these supposed rules, black and white have endless possibilities. You can throw together as many bold and crazy colours as you like; but add black and whites to them, and suddenly the whole composition will become coherent.
Below are some examples I’ve chosen that emphasis this rich harmony of black, white and colour, in various unique ways:
Henri Matisse, Sorrow of the King (1952)
Franz Marc Dog Before the World, 1912
Caravaggio Saint Jerome Writing, 1606
Nature does it pretty well, too.
And my own painting ‘Thylacine‘ using black as a bold, neutralising colour. I will be exploring this colour harmony in more detail in the coming weeks.
What do you think about this subject? Can you suggest any examples of paintings/artefacts that demonstrate this wonderful colour harmony?