Helen Johnson, Elizabeth Newman, John Nixon and Joshua Petherick MONOCHROME EXHIBITION

22 August 2013 –
14 September 2023
All the rage
Helen Johnson

All the rage

, 2013

When we talk about an artwork, it is normal to recite certain facts surrounding its production. It is customary to recite the artist’s name, at the very least. Also important is the date of the work’s production, and the period or movement to which the work belongs. This is how we might talk about a monochrome painting, for example: ‘It was painted by him; it was painted then, and there — note the way it diverges from his previous work… etc.’ This is part of what is called ‘making sense’ of the work. We talk about a monochrome as we would any other work, and this seems entirely appropriate; after all, a monochrome is usually made from the same materials as other paintings and shown in the same galleries as other paintings and collected in the same way as other paintings. What might be seen to distinguish the monochrome from other paintings, though, is its inclination towards absolute simplicity. The monochrome offers itself as a zero-degree of painting, the painting of paintings: it distils, as it were, the essence of painting. Of course, in one sense, every painting always contains something of the essence of painting within itself anyway (when we call something a painting, it is essentially a painting). But the monochrome not only wants to be a painting in this way; it also wants to be a painting that points towards its essence as such, that takes as its subject that which is common to every painting. This is why the way we often ‘make sense’ of a painting, that is, through historicising it, is both appropriate, and at the same time, utterly misleading, when it comes to the monochrome.

  • David Homewood