Winter is the perfect time to celebrate the particular qualities of black and white, rendered here in a photograph and an ink drawing.
“Black and white creates a strange dreamscape that color never can.”
— Musician Jack Antonoff
Black and white are the colors of photography. To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected.
— Photographer Robert Frank
“Color is distracting in a way, it pleases the eye but it doesn’t necessarily reach the heart.” – Photographer Kim Hunter
Black and white is abstract; color is not. Looking at a black and white photograph, you are already looking at a strange world. — Photographer Joel Sternfeld
“Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but black and white films still hold an affectionate place in my heart; they have an incomparable mystique and mood.”― Actress Ginger Rogers
“Drawing is still basically the same as it has been since prehistoric times. It brings together man and the world. It lives through magic.” — Keith Haring
“Color weakens.” — Picasso
I love drawing, an act I find profoundly meditative, and most especially I love drawing with pen and ink. There is a power you get with black and white that isn’t achievable through color. Writer and photo historian Peter Bunnell said, “Full-color images lack the poignancy of monochrome. . . Black-and-white film inherently peels off interesting images from the world; it sees things we do not see, and thus insists on the existence of a phantom presence within reality, a world we cannot perceive.” And In Praise of Shadows, a long essay about the aesthetics of the sublime in Japanese culture, Junichiro Tanizaki said “we find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates.”
By stripping away the color, the power of the pattern emerges. The absolute contrasts are eloquent and bold. Drawing with ink is closer to writing. It contains the seeds of an ancient magic, as so profoundly depicted in Werner Herzog’s documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, in which Herzog leads the viewer into the depths of the mysterious Chauvet Cave in southern France. Although these images, the oldest human ones yet discovered, are called “paintings,” I read them as drawings, and when I draw I feel connected to these ancient humans.
To me, color is symphonic, and I think of these sketchbook drawings as more like piano pieces, frozen pieces of time. Of course, sometimes a hint of color does seem warranted. Though nowhere near as talented as these artists, my influences include Vincent Van Gogh’s drawings, the paintings of Maurice Utrillo, and the prints of Hokusai.