When you think of “abstract art”, what pops into your mind? A jumble of shapes on a canvas? Art that resembles spilled paint? How about paintings with lots of color?
The strong use of color is one of the most prominent features of abstract art, but it’s not necessary to use a variety of colors to make the painting interesting. In fact, there are some artists who do just the opposite: they focus each painting on just one color, and sometimes include tints or shades of that color.
This is called monochrome painting. The main element of the painting is a single color. In the painting above by Kazimir Malevich, the main color is white. The bottom layer is painted a warm white that appears slightly off-white when contrasted with the smaller square painted on top of it, which is a cooler white.
Monochrome paintings start with a single color (or hue), which is then mixed with various degrees of white paint to create tints and black paint to make shades. See the image to the right for an example of a monochromatic color scheme.
In a purely monochromatic painting, no other colors are used. Working in a monochromatic palette allows artists to explore the qualities of a specific color, while experimenting with how that color looks in relation to itself, only altered by white or black.
Some people may find monochrome paintings boring, due to the lack of diversity in color. However, limiting the palette forces the artist to come up with a more creative composition to create interest in the piece. If the artist is working in a realistic or representational style of painting, such as creating a recognizable portrait, landscape or still life, then working on a monochromatic color scheme can help the artist focus on tone and value – two concepts that we’ll discuss in future articles.