These shadings in abstract paintings allow artists to express themselves in a minimalistic way with overarching undertones.
Guernica (1937) by Pablo Picasso
Picasso was never one to avoid making a statement and his 1937 piece Guernica underlines this perfectly. Showing all of his cubist hallmarks, Guernica depicts a Nazi bombing campaign on a small Spanish town during the Spanish Civil War.
The most notable point in the works is the human faces scattered across the piece twisted and distorted in agony and suffering in white and grey. The lighter tones stand out against the darker backgrounds showcasing the plight of the townsfolk. It sends a subtle yet powerful anti-war message.
Untitled Black on Gray (1970) by Mark Rothko
Latvian-American artist Mark Rothko dabbled with basic colour forms in his abstract expressionist paintings. They left a distinct impression and his Untitled Black on Gray painting of 1960 showcases his style perfectly.
It’s made up of just two blocks – a black block on the top half with a grey block on the bottom. The meeting between the two areas halfway across the canvas works spectacularly looking almost like a desolate eerie nightscape. Whether it is the proportions of the natural contrast between the two shades, it is a piece that has little subject but a massive impact.
Black Square (1915) by Kazimir Malevich
Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square is all about individual perception. The Russian’s 1915 piece is exactly what it looks like – an entire black square on an entire black canvas. Small white lines dotted in between giving the silhouette of some shapes in the middle but just what they are exactly is up to the individual.
It suggests a large void looming across the entire painting but doesn’t negate away from other meetings if you look in great detail. It’s a great example of how abstract art took off in Russia in the early 1900’s and showed a great blend between abstract, surreal and suprematism stylings.
Movement in Squares (1961) by Bridget Riley
Many artists throughout the 1960s tested the limits of visual perception in varying degrees and Bridget Riley was one of the best at testing these limits. Her tendency to create optical illusions in her works is a staple of 1960s pop culture and this is best seen in her piece Movement in Squares.
This 1960 creation gives the impression that the squares are always moving and falling into each other from both sides of the canvas. The continual depletion of each square into each other not only feels like continual movement but also embraces a 3D optical illusion as though you are looking down a corridor.
A timeless piece that showcases the verve and creativity that thrived throughout that era.
Zebra (1937) by Victor Vasarely
It’s amazing what can be created with just a couple of shapes and colours. Take Victor Vasarely’s 1937 piece Zebra, a blend of blend of white and black which forms a fantastic design of two zebras playing. The real skill in this piece is how wavy lines are formed together to seamlessly create two very complicated shapes.
The white and blacks blend into one throughout the entire piece and even the smaller lines for eyes look like it was all done in one swift brush stroke. The end result is a stunning piece that gives a joyful and playful vibe to the entire painting.
Horse's Skull with White Rose (1931) by Georgia O’Keeffe
Georgia O’Keefe painted many different aspects of nature, but nothing captures the beautiful yet brutal nature of our planet like Horse's Skull with White Rose. It boldly depicts the skull of a horse withered over time yet features an elegant white rose resting on top.
No details on either the skull or the rose are left out with the striking white of each object beaming from the black background. It is a harsh reminder about how life on our planet remains finely on a knifes-edge and the never-ending antithesis of life and death in all of its different forms.
1943 (relief) (1943) by Ben Nicholson
Ben Nicholson created 1934 (relief) having been inspired from a meeting with Piet Mondrian the year before at a gallery unveiling. The result had Nicholson creating an abstract piece in the same geometric whims as the revolutionary Dutchman.
1934 (relief) is stunning as it uses almost all white to create a variety of distinct intersecting shapes with just the darkest hints of black to infer their looming shadow. The end result is a creation that looks almost 3D in some areas as if different shapes have been cut out from one another. An excellent work that was truly ahead of its time.
Scorn (2011) by Tomoo Gokita
Abstract art has not been lost as we move into the modern age. Tomoo Gokita’s 2011 painting Scorn exemplifies this. The Japanese artist has taken a seemingly traditional portrait and then blurred out the subject’s face.
It has a look reminiscent of a blurred security camera and gives little suggestion as to what emotion their subject was portraying. The lack of any distinct colour leaves no opportunity for viewers to guess just if or what any feelings the subject may have been harbouring. In an era where computer design and colour dominate modern pieces, Scorn is a reminder of just how powerful abstract art remains.