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Black & Noir

Black & Noir

The artist must free himself/herself from the prejudices of traditional, conventional thought if he or she is to create freely. One strong prejudice in graphic arts has been against the colour black.

Black and white have often been used to describe opposites – truth and ignorance, good and evil, the “Dark Ages” versus the Age of Enlightenment. At the same time, since the Middle Ages, black has been the symbolic colour of solemnity and authority, and for this reason is still commonly worn by judges and magistrates. 

In the Roman Empire, black became the colour of mourning, and over the centuries it was frequently associated with death, evil, witches, and magic. This traditional association of black with death and sin has led to the widespread conviction that black is depressing and sinister and therefore, if possible, must be avoided.

Many Western graphic artists shy away from black. When they are confronted with no other alternative, they often accept black grudgingly and make little effort to discover or develop its potentialities. Fortunately, some artists have understood and exploited the potential black offers. Among the many artists who have used black as a vital element in their work are Rouault, Braque, Miró, Léger, Arp, and Picasso. Beardsley, Masereel, and Posada used it almost exclusively.

Black and white are the raw colours of the struggle between life and death. Picasso’s “Guernica” is eloquent testimony of the expressive power of black and its natural companions, gray and white. The absence of the expected colours dramatizes the impact of this mural. The understatement from use of black, white and gray makes bearable the horror and violence shown while paradoxically emphasizing the brutally tragic imagery.

In Japanese painting, black (sumi) is often the only colour employed. The Japanese artist feels that colours can cheat the eye but black never can. The famous Japanese painter Kubota often wished he might live long enough to be able to discard colour altogether and use black alone. The colour pattern of the Japanese house is based on the contrasting use of dark and light materials.

Many artists feel that a work becomes more colourful in proportion to the amount of colour used in it. This is often untrue. Limited colour when combined with black and white – which provide a brilliant but neutral background – is often far more effective than the use of many colours. Furthermore, the tendency of black and white to brighten and enliven other colours often makes any colour used more articulate than when it is employed alone or combined with other primary or secondary colours. This is especially important in the case of dark colours.

It is impossible to define cold without reference to heat. It is impossible to understand life if death is ignored. Black is what we use to represent death, but by virtue of this psychological fact, black defines life. By providing contrast, black enhances life, light, and colour. 

I selected a few quotes, mostly from artists and avant-garde fashion designers I admire:

“Black is modest and arrogant at the same time. Black is lazy and easy but mysterious. But above all black says this: “I don’t bother you; you don’t bother me.’” — Yohji Yamamato

“A painter should begin every canvas with a wash of black, because all things in nature are dark except where exposed by the light.” — Leonardo de Vinci

“To see in colour is a delight for the eye, but to see in black and white is a delight for the soul.” — Andri Cauldwell

“I fell in love with black; it contained all colour. It wasn’t a negation of colour. Black is the most aristocratic colour of all... You can be quiet, and it contains the whole thing.” — Louise Nevelson

“You can wear black at any time. You can wear it at any age. You may wear it for almost any occasion.” — Christian Dior

“You can have any colour as long as it’s BLACK.” — Henry Ford


In this group exhibition I chose artists who often practise in black in their works. They vary in their medium and influences, but when they gather together in one group exhibition, it creates another beauty. 

I hope this exhibition has an impact on each viewer, whether they find this almost minimal and brutal or poetic, imaginative and joyful. I like seeing people’s reaction when viewing a curated exhibition.

Juno Youn

VERNISSAGE: Saturday, October 6th, 6 pm to 9:30 pm
RSVP (via Facebook):
Black & noir

Earlier Event: September 8
Sébastien Gaudette
Later Event: December 1
Bobby Mathieson