Motherwell on ‘Black or White’

In the book The Writings of Robert Motherwell, edited by Dore Ashton and Joan Banach, 2007 there contains a piece of writing by Motherwell on ‘Black or White’, 1950. In Black or White Paintings by European and American Artists, exhibition catalogue (New York: Samual Kootz Gallery, 1950)

Motherwell refers to black and white in their own physicality of weight and chemistry:

‘The chemistry of pigments is interesting: ivory black, like bone black is made from charred bones or horns,  carbon black is the result of burnt gas and the most common of whites – apart from cold, slimy zinc oxide and recent bright titanium dioxide are made from lead…. Being soot, black is light and fluffy, weighing a twelfth of the average pigment.’

The next area is to understand how light interacts with both black and white:

‘Black does not reflect but absorbs all light; that is its essential nature; while that of white it to reflect light; dictionaries define it that of snow’s colour’.

… And then the relationship that black and white have on a canvas or a sheet of paper. A blank white sheet of paper can be considered as a contained surface area, however, when black is added to that sheet of paper there becomes almost a negotiation between the black and the white as to which will remain the surface area and which one will be pushed back. Motherwell writes:

‘As the thought comes to me to exorcise and transform this black with a white drawing, it has already become a surface … A fresh white canvas is a void, as is the poets’ sheet of blank white paper…If the amounts of black or white are right, they will have condensed into quality, into feeling.’

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