Black as Symbol & Concept



“There is a black which is old and a black which is fresh. Lustrous black and dull black, black in sunlight and black in shadow”

Ad Reinhardt

For the past year I have been working on a collection of drawings for my own solo exhibition this spring. The official publications will follow sometime after this post but I thought a sentimental explanation of the concept would be fun.

While working on my comic series Cypress Tales in July, I developed a fondness for the India ink I’d been using for the illustrations. The contrast between the white of the mixed media paper and the black pigment in this ink was striking to me. Intimidating to an extent. I finished the first installment of the comic and was left with the India ink, some sharpies, and micron pens. My wheels turned over a way that I could use these black materials together. What would it mean to work black on black? I eventually expanded the idea to encompass not only mark making tools but the surfaces I could use that were black, and what it could mean conceptually; to use a black material to make a black mark on a black surface. An endless void of blackness.

In “Black as Symbol and Concept,” Ad Reinhardt  said, “There is a black which is old and a black which is fresh. Lustrous black and dull black, black in sunlight and black in shadow”. I think of this when look at the work in this exhibition, the idea of ‘blackness as a symbol and a concept’ on display in MOMA, Guggenheim, and other museums around the globe. I thought of the many shades on shelves labeled ‘black’, all singular variations of the same semiotic referent. Impressive how five symbols carry such loaded meaning, narrative, and policy. Blackness has been policed globally for centuries, so much that many black communities now police themselves, holding each other to behavioral guidelines that carry more weight than many can bear.

“…Because there are unspoken guidelines to your Blackness; there are penalties and consequences for stepping outside of the regulations preset long ago by elders who were finding their way between busing and lynchings, pork fat grease, ham hocks, and cotton bale finger pricks. To defy these laws is to defy yourself, to defy your people. Yes, your people. You are kin, even if you have not chosen to be. You will speak, must speak, to the soul and spirit of all those who share the complexion of you, the complexities of you…” – Joel Leon

I thought “What kinda black am I?” Am I a black that is old? Fresh? Lustrous or dull? I don’t know, yet. This exhibition of drawings journal my contentious relationship with blackness as well as the social, cultural, and political systems that contribute to my identifying with it. If you find yourself in San Diego, CA during April 1-5, 2019, stop by the Adam Kamil Gallery and view the exhibition. I’d love to see you there.

Black as Symbol and Concept,” in Barbara Rose, Art-as-Art: The Selected Writings of Ad Reinhardt (New York: University of California Press, 1953), 86.

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