–Ad Reinhardt, LIFE, Feb 3, 1967, p. 50.
Perhaps it was inevitable that the “prophet” of Minimalism was at the forefront of Abstract Expressionism; only one fully engaged in the movement could distill it to “pure painting.” Applying the tenets of Negative Theology, Ad Reinhardt sought the endpoint of his maxim, “Art-as-art is nothing but art. Art is not what is not art.” (Ad Reinhardt, “Art as Art”, Art International, VI, no. 10, December 1962). Reinhardt believed that negation would reveal art’s essence through the elements that were deemed inessential and removed. Over the arc of his career, from Cubism inspired abstractions and gridded color fields, Reinhardt’s strategy of apophasis is clear, ultimately reaching his seminal “black” paintings, which he continued to refine over the last decade of his career.
Today as when they were first exhibited in the 1960s, the black paintings hold their secrets close and are accessible only to the attentive and patient viewer. They are scotopic visions that require the viewer’s eyes to adjust their definition of black and allow the nuances of color to appear. Revealed in Black is a vertical trifurcation with the central column of deepest black bounded at the top and bottom by wide vertical bands. A green-hued black bisects the vertical stripe to create symmetry along the vertical and horizontal axes. Four squares of midnight blue-black provide hints of light and an additional dimension to the esthetic experience. The capped cruciform recalls Eastern and Western religious symbols equally. Overall, the composition and subtle shadings foster a meditative approach while testing the limits of visual perception.
The rigor with which he undertook his project of negation extended to his materials and the application of paint to canvas. Reinhardt achieved Black’s void-like blackness by removing oil from the paint until it lay on the canvas like a powdery, matte plane. Revealing the distance he had traveled from Abstract Expressionism, Reinhardt’s vigilant application of paint ensured he would leave no trace of his brushstrokes. Subtle variations in tone were produced by the addition of small amounts of colored paint. Each meticulous step of negation was a necessary element in Reinhardt’s artistic purification to reach a state of “oneness and fineness, rightness and purity, abstractness and evanescence.” (Reinhardt, “Art as Art”, Art International).
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