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Considering Black in Painting

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Eugene Thacker considers the perception of the 'color' black and the function of black in vision and painting.

Thacker writes: "Certainly in paintings like [St. Jerome Writing, c.1606] Caravaggio makes extreme use of chiaroscuro, and he is not the first to do so. But there is a sense that Caravaggio took as much care painting the black backgrounds as he did the lighted figures in the foreground. Caravaggio's black is ambiguous. In one part of the canvas the black background is flat and full. In another part it is an empty, infinite depth. In still another part it is a thick black cloud, miasmatically embracing the foreground figures. The echo between the saint's barely haloed head and the skull holding open the book is accentuated by one kind of black – a black of shadows, shading and contour. But behind both skull and head there is only outer space, at once flat and infinite. In a strange optical illusion, this same cosmic black seems to also inhabit the edges of the books, the space underneath the table, the creases of the fabric, and Jerome's own wrists. This is ‘black painting’ – black as a background that is always about to eclipse the foreground, the groundlessness of the figure/ground distinction itself, the presence of an absence, a retinal pessimism."

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