Far from Black and White

The Importance of colour in There Not There

The ideas that underpin our exhibition There Not There are far from black and white. Were I to ascribe them a specific colour, it might be Terre de Bohême, the name of the light blue grey colour, which we chose to paint the walls of our exhibition space. The space between absence and presence, which we explore in our show, is undoubtedly a grey area.

When we first started thinking about how our class of twelve student curators would go about organising this show I did not realise how powerful and important colour would be to our concept.

From a practical curatorial standpoint, colour was very important to our show. We had art works by twelve different artists in different media, ranging from photography, works on paper to a 16mm black and white film. All of these works had to be placed in one room with one colour on the walls – a task easier said than done. It became apparent that after selecting the works for a show, choosing a wall colour is one of the most difficult challenges a curator faces; it can make the artworks sing or it can leave them struggling to make their voices heard, drowned out or deadened by the wrong choice of paint.

With Terre de Bohême out of the paint tins and onto the walls, it became abundantly clear how important colour would be in this show. The works began to resonate with each other more than I had ever expected, with colour creating connections between works, which I hadn’t necessarily noticed before. The relationship between Armando Andrade Tudela’s dilapidated Billboards and George Shaw’s The End of Time was made even more obvious by their shared blue tones and the tiny yellow flowers in Paul Seawright’s Sectarian Murder series chimed beautifully with the yellow parking line around Shaw’s demolished pub.

Colour in this exhibition helps to bring the unseen to the fore. Whiteread’s decision to cast her found objects in light blue and azure resin and plaster turn the inside on mundane objects, in this case two postal tubes and a rectangular box, into jewel-like treasures. The sculpture seems to sparkle and shimmer in the light, drawing our attention to objects, which we normally overlook in our day-to-day lives.

The sense of wonder and mystery created by colour can also be seen in the Tillmans photograph behind the Whiteread vitrine. The sky in Gedser contains the same rich blue as Whiteread’s sculpture and the digital manipulation that has obscured the figure in the background adds the same shimmering quality to the photograph. Both artists use colour to show the elusive quality that exists between there and not there.

The colours present in our exhibition help to confirm the idea that absence and presence are not mutually exclusive concepts. In Christine Hatt’s work, from which the title of our exhibition is taken, it might appear at first glance that the artists sees these ideas as black and white, represented by a black rectangle sitting on a white background. But take a closer look at the black rectangle and you will see that it is neither purely black nor opaque. The rectangle is built up of layers of orange crayon, black crayon and grey graphite pencil, which intermingle to create a richly coloured and textured shape. What at first seems familiar and easy to grasp is in fact more complex and intangible.

Flashes of colour highlight the complex emotions which many of this exhibition’s artworks explore. The subject matter of many of the works in this exhibition is serious. The works deal with a number of issues such as abusive relationships, urban deterioration, violence and murder. At first glance, the content and palette of this exhibition is dark. Tudela’s Billboard series documents deteriorated billboards along the highways of Peru. The economic problems in South America are made clear by these former symbols of North American investment now laid bare. However, look at the Billboards another way and they become large abstract oil paintings, sprung out on nothing on the dusty roadside. Tudela shows that art and beauty can be found in the most unlikely of places. The ideas of There and Not There are two ends of a spectrum which is filled with a wealth of colour and possibility.

Jane Stella Simpkiss

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