The exhibition ‘White on White’ explores the philosophical, poetic associations of the colour white through the work of Melbourne artists Anna Caione and Fiona Halse. Caione and Halse express the synergies and divergences in their approach to abstraction through the process of surface manipulation and gestural expression. Their shared preference for the colour white amalgamates their works yet each artist loads the neutrality of the hue with a diversity of personal meaning that gives rise to a range of intriguing interpretative possibilities.
White is considered by some to be a non-colour, yet its transformational qualities continue to fascinate contemporary artists. White can be purely suggestive or a dominant force informing the intrinsic visual language within an artist’s work. The initiation of the single-coloured artwork termed the ‘Monochrome’ is a fairly recent occurrence of twentieth-century art, with practitioners such as Piero Manzoni, Robert Ryman, Mary Martin and Kazimir Malevich falling into the category of monochromatic painters. Curator Tanya Barson of the Tate’s Painting with White exhibition has noted that the decision for artists to restrict themselves to one colour can open up a rich and versatile area of investigation, with the use of white drawing attention to a variety of techniques, materials, textures, surfaces, structures and forms.
Artists often impose a restrictive palette to enable them to discover a plethora of subtleties and nuances. Robert Ryman, for example, embraced white’s neutrality for its ‘tendency to make things visible’. He suggested that ‘a blank canvas enables an artist to clearly see a mark and celebrate directness and materiality,’ yet a mark on white can also expose the bare essentials posed within the surface of the work and manifested by gestural impulses from the artist’s hand. Kandinsky sensed this multifaceted aspect to white when he claimed it was the ‘harmony of silence’. In his book Concerning the Spiritual in Art he described how the silent or still quality of white resonated for him with ‘the many pauses in music that break the melody temporarily’. (Kandinsky, W, 1977, p. 39).
The exhibition ‘White on White’ is a tribute to Kazimir Malevich and his Suprematist composition: White on White (1918). Whilst the Black Square (1915) is commonly believed to be the ‘first Suprematist painting’ (Lodder, C. 2018, p. 13) and communicates Malevich’s aesthetic theory as the ‘the supremacy of pure feeling or perception in the pictorial arts’ ( MOMA, n.d.). Malevich referred to White on White as ‘a representation of the transcendent state reached through Suprematism’ (The Art Story, n.d) and marked a shift from polychrome to monochrome. Malevich’s contribution was significant to the development of non-objective and abstract art, which he believed could pave the way to spiritual freedom, a utopian world of pure form and a ‘universal language that would free viewers from the material world.’ (Malevich, K, 1926).
Art21, Inc, 2007, Color, Surface and Seeing, Robert Ryman, Retrieved 19 May 2019
Kandinsky, W, 1977, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Dover Publications Inc, NY, USA
Lodder, C, 2018, Celebrating Suprematism, Brill, Leiden, Netherlands
Malevich, K, 1926, Retrieved 19 May 2019 http://www.moodbook.com/history/modernism/malevich-suprematism.html
MOMA, n.d. Retrieved 19 May 2019 https://www.moma.org/collection/works/80385
TATE, n.d. Painting with White, n.d. Retrieved 19 May 2019 < https://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern/display/in-the-studio/painting-white>
The Art Story, n.d. Kazimir Malevich, Retrieved 19 May 2019 https://www.theartstory.org/artist-malevich-kasimir-artworks.htm