Curator’s Essay

It’s Not All Black and White

Many artists represented in the Kramarsky Collection work monochromatically. Some mine the rich tonal ranges of gray, while others exploit the optical play of black and white. The title of Linda Lynch’s pastel Dark Ribbon Drawing is somewhat of a misnomer, as it is the paper that is colored black, leaving a sliver, or “ribbon” of white to shine through. The artist creates the illusion of movement through careful shading, as if the undulating white band is stitched through the paper. Lynch offers a sensuous, organic composition quite distinct from Frank Badur’s spare, geometric Drawing Without Title. This work comprises a vertical sheet of bright white Chinese paper painted with horizontal bands of velvety black gouache. Although uniform in color, the varying widths of the bands, and their asymmetrical placement, project different densities and weights.

Whether painting or drawing, Joan Witek works exclusively in black and white. For Wrinkled Paper Piece V she applied black gouache to the raised surfaces of a large sheet of crumpled paper. The result is a vibrant composition of energy and movement. Witek’s dazzling display of dark ridges, bright valleys, and wandering lines highlight the intricate topography of the paper. Her animated gestures are barely contained within four horizontal bands as the expressive elements vie with formal geometry for pictorial dominance. Gloria Ortiz-Hernández employed an array of media—oil pastel, charcoal, and colored pencil—to achieve different visual effects within a single work, Uno y medio [One and a Half]. Her composition contains three distinct layers: a square foundation, partially covered by a flat black angled plane on the right, which is in turn overlaid with a shaded panel on the left. This top form is sensitively modeled with gestural marks and subtle color variations to suggest a cylindrical shape, while the plane on the right is so intensely black it reads as a deep void. Ortiz-Hernández’s shifting aesthetics are framed in a square, its perfect proportions mirrored in the dimensions of the paper.

While monochromatic images reign supreme in the Kramarsky Collection, color does make its appearance. Just as with black and white, artists explore color for its visual impact, its contrasts and interactions, even for its emotional connections. Stephen Antonakos’s Untitled Drawing may be small in scale but it is big on energy. Hundreds of lines move in multiple directions, their colors changing mid-stroke. Although the lines fully cover the vellum surface, they rarely overlap. Antonakos’s vigorous, vibrant image recalls the soft plumage of an exotic bird. Glowing gold circles on a purple field reverberate in Sara Sosnowy’s Gold Drawing #77. Purple and gold are the liturgical colors of the Christian season of Lent; here the artist uses them to bestow a precious quality to her work. Sosnowy’s textured dots flow in fluid arcs and swirls with no faithfulness to structure or geometry. Their sizes and proximities fluctuate, enticing the eye to dance across the small but opulent composition.

Roni Horn and Carl Andre both use the color red to create movement and add visual intensity to their intimate works. The smoky swirls in Horn’s Untitled shift from bright crimson to muted burgundy. Her viscous mixture of powdered pigment and varnish forms tactile accretions, evoking a geography of red-hot lava. Two razor thin lines slice the composition in half, their ordered procession leading to a ragged rupture in the paper’s surface. Each panel in Andre’s Untitled triptych is the size of a playing card. He depicts an upward expanding black mountainous form (conversely, if viewed from right to left, it appears that the upper red regions ooze downward). In contrast to the flat black, Andre’s red is modulated, glowing brighter along the “horizon” where the two colors meet. Ambiguity abounds and interpretations shift: Is it a landscape? A sunset? A human profile?

Ellsworth Kelly’s pane of midnight blue, Study for “Dark Blue Panel,” is an exploration of shape and surface. The edges gently curve inward as if the thick, handmade paper were a piece of taut, tacked cloth. A faint pink tint along its sides is an unintentional, albeit beautiful, result of the pigment bleeding through. Kelly’s sensitive handling of color creates a molten, soft surface that resembles felt more than paper. As its title indicates, this is a preparatory drawing for an oil painting, now in the collection of Centre Georges Pompidou Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris. Remarkably, that work measures 97 x 111 inches (compared to Kramarsky’s drawing at 9 x 10 inches) and is significantly less modeled than this study.