Black and White: Art of Extremes

By Nico 4 weeks ago

Black and white. When certain artists use these opposite poles, unique art gets created. Monochromatic has been shocking the world for more than 200 years in pretty much every art form there is. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the most renowned pieces. 

Black and White Paintings

Just two painting knobs, one white and one black. Some of the greatest pieces come to life just by mixing them in different proportions. Black and white paintings can look simple in terms of how many materials need to be used, however, it takes a skillful artist to turn them into masterpieces.

But, which are the most important ones? It’s really difficult to name just a few, mainly because our planet is full of great art. Such as:

  • Guernica – Picasso 

Copyright: Pablo Picasso – Guernica – 1937 – Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid

When talking about disruptive artists, there’s no way we could forget about Pablo Picasso. One of the greatest of the cubist movement, creator of the “Guernica”.

Working with just two colors (and variations of grey) he managed to capture the horrors of the Spanish civil war. The use of black and white is also said to represent the struggle between good and evil.

  • Movement in Squares – Bridget Riley

Copyright: Bridget Riley – Movement in squares – 1961 – Hayward Gallery

The 20th century inspired great artists, such as Bridget Riley, who stood out among other abstract artists. In fact, many people think that she was the one who introduced optical illusions into the American mainstream. Mainly, thanks to “Movement in squares”.

Grab two colors, add the repetition and modification of a simple shape, and mix it with such a creative mind, and you’ll get an extraordinarily disruptive work of art in which an optical illusion gives a sense of speed like no other.

  • Horse’s Skull With White Rose – Georgia O’Keeffe

Copyright: Georgia O’Keeffe – Horse’s Skull with White Rose – 1931- Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

This is one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s tributes to the American far west. What’s interesting about this piece is that by opposing two strong elements (a rose and a skull), both life and death are represented. That’s probably the reason why she chose to paint only using black and white. Both colors are associated with these concepts.

Black and White Photography

Something we need to highlight is that both photography and film arts started in black and white. And although as years went by and new technologies emerged, many artists chose to keep working with the lack of color. They were the ones who kept this beautiful art form living by creating astonishing powerful pieces. 

Just to name a few, we should talk about:

Copyright: Daido Moriyama – Shinjuku – 2000-2004

Black and white pictures have been used a lot for depicting urban nightlife. Daido Moriyama, after 75 years of career, has become a master of this sort of image. Some of the most distinctive aspects you’ll find in his work are the contrast between focussed and out-of-focus elements, grain texture, and the climates he manages to create in each photograph. 

Copyright: Igor Posner – Past Perfect Continuous – Red Hook Editions

Igor Posner’s pictures are really easy to distinguish due to his unique style. Some of the characteristics that make him stand out from the others are the dynamism he gives to his pieces by playing with out-of-focus elements. Also, by using dark objects in opposition to little bright ones. 

In his book “Past Perfect Continuous”, he takes viewers to San Petersburg and its night scene. Igor aims to show how it feels for an immigrant to get back after many years to a place that seems to be stuck in time. 

Copyright: Devin Yalkin – The Old One Two

Overlapping, movement, dynamism, expressiveness, and art pieces which are a punch to the face. These are some of the things that you’ll find in Devin Oktar Yalkin’s photographs. An artist that, even though he has some color pictures, most of his artwork is black and white.

Black and White Illustration

Although black and white are only two colors, in the field of illustration, the possibilities they offer are limitless.

Patterns with dots, lines, solid backgrounds, shades of grey, etc. There are so many options you can choose from and use as a reference. Quick hint, you can search through Freepik and you’ll find amazing new artists to learn things from.

  • Batman Black and White: Perpetual Mourning – Ted Mckeever

Copyright: Batman Black and White: Perpetual Mourning – Ted McKeever – DC

This comic book series is inspired by the noir aesthetic. Black and white solid backgrounds get combined with beautiful strokes created with classic drawing and illustration tools and pens. These things give birth to incredible-looking art that transcends years. Another thing that makes Batman Black and White a really interesting series, is that different artists and authors come up with each story.

  • House of Epicurus – Stuart Patience

Copyright: House of Epicurus – Stuart Patience

Infinity of details, a wide variety of strokes, complex shading, black and white solid backgrounds, the pieces created by this British illustrator have such craftsmanship that it’s unbelievable. His name says it all, and there is no better way to describe his work.

  • The Jazz Scene – David Stone Martin

Copyright: The Jazz Scene – David Stone Martin

Just black lines over white backgrounds. With just the basics from illustration, David Stone Martin was able to create some of jazz’s most influential album covers of all time. With simple lines only, he managed to portrait some of the most characteristic scenes of the music world from his time.

Black and white, yin and yang tones. When certain creative minds work with them, they come up with amazing pieces (like Craig Easton, whose work we talked about in this article). And even though it may seem that, just because they’re only two colors, it should be easy to use them, becoming a master of this style takes a lot of dedication and practice. And there’s no better way to do it than getting the right inspiration here.

Do you know any other artists that we should mention? Tell us with a comment.

By Nico