Monochromatic painting has been popular since pre-history, but this style rose to the fore throughout the Minimalist and Conceptual Art movements of the late 1960s and 70s in the United States.
Following the successes of Abstract Expressionists and gestural painters like Pollock, Krasner and Rauschenberg, the post-modern shift away from spontaneous improvisations of form led to a Goethe-esque dive into the qualities of colour, shade and tonality.
In recent years, there has been increased interest in value of colour as a cultural signifier, as well as a number of landmark exhibitions exploring chroma as a lineage within art history. In the years leading up to the global pandemic, Otomys almost sold out of an edition of work which to some, was almost simply a gradation of white tones. This was a time when life was more frenetic and the stillness and silence in this minimalist, monochromatic work resonated more deeply with collectors .
With this storied background, it is no wonder that visual artists have continued to explore the meditative allure of monochromatic painting.
Landscape painting : a history of monochromatic colouR
Perhaps it is Poussin and the history of the vedutà ( Italian for ‘view’) which first led to European art history’s preoccupation with tones and shades in landscape painting.
While the 17th-century landscape master Nicolas Poussin foregrounded centuries of detailed imagery and sunken horizon lines, his greatest accomplishment was in his championing of detail — a quality which emerged out of the Renaissance preoccupation for mathematical accuracy, in lieu of illusory realism.
It was from this genesis, as well as large scale cityscape paintings of the period that landscape art turned away from mythic memorialisations of the environment and paved the way for Turner and our contemporary examination of formal painting aspects.
Abstract monochromes in contemporary landscape painting
While the classical elements of landscape painting have largely been put aside in contemporary art practice, fascination with the magnificence of nature persists as a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary obsession among many artists today.
Greg Wood has been painting landscapes in Australia and Belgium since the 1990s, and his monochromatic approach to cloud formations and his surroundings follows in Turner’s footsteps, examining the psychic impact of landscape on the self.
Sophia Szilagyi adapts a classical approach and considered style in to her limited palette. The many shades of black in subtly explored in Sophia’s work along with delicate notes of colour which mark her characteristic powerful and emotional art.
Beyond black and white - a study in psychology
Monochromatic does not have to be pensive, although it often allows a meditative serenity to the work.
Greg Wood has taken the study of landscape as his life work, creating a veritable cosmogony in his cartographic expression of the land , see his latest work in Nature of Change. With a technique that embraces a bright and vigorous underpainting, building layers upon layers, Wood finds influences of observation, form, and colour. The result is a collection that uses a fresh methodology, discovering looseness as presented in nature.
Similarly, the oneiric aspect of Eduardo Santos’ oil paintings is grounded in turbulence and an adjacent examination of the brutality of organic forms. While Santos often delves into rose and aqua to complement his monochromes, the poignant nostalgia in his painting is always grounded in his (far from simple) neutrals hues.