How many colors do you need to create an artwork? Sometimes just one. In fact, the word monochrome literally means one color.
Where did all begin?
In the 20th century, with the rise of abstract art, many artists experimented monochrome paintings. As Anish Kapoor, Ad Reinhardt, Robert Ryman and Robert Rauschenberg. So, everything started with Abstraction. Avant-garde artists became obsessed by separating subject form from art, in order to explore the pure nature of art itself. Monochrome paintings are part of this idea. Using just a single color means reduces an artwork into its simple form.
One of the first pioneer making this connection was Kazimir Malevich. He was one of the first artists to dedicate himself to reducing art into its simplest forms, translated his idea into the movement of suprematism. In 1917-1918, he created his first set of monochrome paintings. Each composed of white square on white background, entitled White on white. That was one of the first works of pure abstraction.
But it’s important to mention that monochrome technique was born with two meanings. Reduce artworks to its simplest form, as just mentioned, and for communicating spiritual purity.
One of the most important artists associated with this second meaning was Yves Klein. He realized how deeply color can touch human emotions. In the 1950’s, he created a set of eleven identical blue canvases. In a bright blue color that Yves Klein developed himself, the International Klein Blue. For this kind of artists, monochromatic paintings became a powerful way to evoke personal feelings and experiences. The idea was (and still is) to explore emotion and spirituality through monochrome art.
Color can be used to evoke strong feelings. But feelings are subjective. We see them in different ways, and we describe and remember them differently. What we feel when we are in front of a particular color depends on the contexts in which we have encountered it previously. This could be an explanation why monochrome paintings evoke such controversy at time. Because it offers us something specific but also, it welcomes whatever we give.
A monochrome painting is never finished until people look at it, adding a personal meaning. It's an infinite space that the viewer was invited to share.
Some monochrome paintings selected by Kooness