A brief and provisional rumination on a Black Form

Matthew Metzger

Matthew Metzger: That Which Can't Be Played (Version 2), Acrylic and Oil on MRMDF Panel, 11 ⅞" x 11 ⅞", 2015 (Courtesy of Arratia Beer, Berlin and Regards, Chicago)
Matthew Metzger: That Which Can’t Be Played (Version 2), Acrylic and Oil on MRMDF Panel, 11 ⅞” x 11 ⅞”, 2015 (Courtesy of Arratia Beer, Berlin and Regards, Chicago)

Colors cannot be divorced from their surfaces in order to be sensed or known.

Surfaces cannot be seen without contrast. Colors cannot be seen without borders that shape contrast. Colors are objects. Objects are not colors. Borders are frames for recognition and, as such, your body is always and already an initial point of contrast, your first border.

To see something is to recognize it and to recognize it is to name it.

Knowing is the illusion that results from one’s privileging of language over sensation, naming over feeling.

Matthew Metzger: That Which Can't Be Played (Version 7), Acrylic and Oil on MRMDF Panel, 11 ⅞" x 11 ⅞", 2015 (Courtesy of Arratia Beer, Berlin and Regards, Chicago)
Matthew Metzger: That Which Can’t Be Played (Version 7), Acrylic and Oil on MRMDF Panel, 11 ⅞” x 11 ⅞”, 2015 (Courtesy of Arratia Beer, Berlin and Regards, Chicago)

‘FOREST GREEN’

Colors are always negotiating: systems with sensations, languages with emotions, knowledge with experience. They amplify sensations that at times are desired and at others are repressed, always gluing the past to the present.

Surfaces are points in the world when the political is enmeshed with the sensorial, where design is interwoven with memory and where the preconscious vibrates through the present.

When I see any color, I am able to see it due to naming it according to previous moments in time when I have also experienced that color. The ‘Forest Green’ that pervades the world via Starbucks, for me, is the same green of the Christmas wreaths, Douglas firs, and poorly designed wrapping paper of my childhood. The surfaces of provisional, glittery decorations, crinkly satin paper, and store-bought trees, which would drop needles all month long on our soft rose carpet in 1988, are how I know ‘Forest Green’. It’s not at all that ‘Forest Green’ is synonymous with capitalism, desire, and weighted expectations; it is all of those things.

The limits of ‘Forest Green’ are embedded in the limits of the objects it occupies.

I can see that ‘Forest Green’ is not white or any other color because of its borders, its surfaces, and its various locations in my memory. My ability to know ‘Forest Green’ will always be generated from memories, each of which comes with borders and surfaces: forms.

Color is always framed by, and thus trapped in past due to design (the formal limits of a thing) and experience being locked in moments of time.

‘Forest Green’ is not ‘Dark Green’ nor ‘Neon Green’ nor ‘Grass Green’ for the very reasons mentioned above. And yet Green, Red, Blue, Yellow, etc. all follow the same principles mentioned above. This is to say that any given color’s unique and specific qualities are latched to the constraints of an ongoing and ever-developing set of formal reference points.

Since a color cannot be divorced from its surface and surfaces are known through the body, then the limits of a given color are the very limits of a given design as it meets the body.

Matthew Metzger: That Which Can't Be Played (Version 9), Acrylic and Oil on MRMDF Panel, 11 ⅞" x 11 ⅞", 2015 (Courtesy of Arratia Beer, Berlin and Regards, Chicago)
Matthew Metzger: That Which Can’t Be Played (Version 9), Acrylic and Oil on MRMDF Panel, 11 ⅞” x 11 ⅞”, 2015 (Courtesy of Arratia Beer, Berlin and Regards, Chicago)

‘BLACK’

Black is always present.

Black does not have variations in its palette. Any variation that we may convince ourselves we are seeing in Black only shifts Black back into becoming a color and is thus subject to that color’s spectrum and designed object limitations.

Black is Black because we cannot see variations or color differences within it. Black is Black because it exists as a field of unvarying tone. If we could detect the nuances of various colors in black, our language and sensory perception would quickly pigeonhole it according to, again, the limits of designed surfaces as they meet the body.

Black should therefore operate as a lens, a way of looking at (the act of experiencing) the present, rather than seeing (naming) it through things.

Black retains the potential to subvert the limitations of time, history, and design.

Black supersedes history; not by knowing the present via the past but rather by recognizing that the past is in fact the present; that time is an elongated field that is the Black surface.

But where does this surface end?

Black must take some form to be experienced, and if all forms in the world are subject to design (intention), culture (collective aesthetics), and time (memory), among many other categories, then Black becomes debilitated by any form it occupies; trapped by boundaries, surfaces, and sensations.

Alternatively, to deploy Black as a label is to ascribe the labeled with a potency that reflects the now like no other, a liquid mirror, but only until the liquid stops running.

What forms should Black begin to occupy then? Is there a form that performs in the same capacity as Black does?

Bodies are not black, yet in America, the utterance of the word Black has transcribed bodies into objects. Bodies that can be dismantled, cast off, traded, or even worse, collected (think prisons for instance).

The delicacy of such a term is surprisingly powerful. When uttered from the standpoint of a color, like water, it penetrates surfaces with a force that warps and cracks everyone’s foundation at speeds unrecognizable today.

We have all lived with Black ‘performing’ as a color for too long.

What might be the implications of a Black form that is not bound by a lifespan, where it’s potency and strength works to support culture from generation to generation, body to body?

Black cannot be divorced from its surface in order to be sensed or known.

A surface cannot be seen without contrast.

Black cannot be seen without borders.

Black is an object. But the object is not forever Black.

Borders are frames for recognition, and as such, your body is always and already an initial point of contrast, your first border.

To see something is to recognize it and to recognize it is to name it.

Knowing is the weight that comes from naming.

Matthew Metzger: That Which Can't Be Played (Version 3), Acrylic and Oil on MRMDF Panel, 11 ⅞" x 11 ⅞", 2015 (Courtesy of Arratia Beer, Berlin and Regards, Chicago)
Matthew Metzger: That Which Can’t Be Played (Version 3), Acrylic and Oil on MRMDF Panel, 11 ⅞” x 11 ⅞”, 2015 (Courtesy of Arratia Beer, Berlin and Regards, Chicago)
Matthew Metzger: That Which Can't Be Played (Version 6), Acrylic and Oil on MRMDF Panel, 11 ⅞" x 11 ⅞", 2015 (Courtesy of Arratia Beer, Berlin and Regards, Chicago)
Matthew Metzger: That Which Can’t Be Played (Version 6), Acrylic and Oil on MRMDF Panel, 11 ⅞” x 11 ⅞”, 2015 (Courtesy of Arratia Beer, Berlin and Regards, Chicago)

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Matthew Metzger is an Artist and Educator who lives and works in Chicago. He received his MFA from the University of Chicago and attended the Skowhegan Artist Residency Program both in 2009. Since then he has exhibited at The Smart Museum of Art in Chicago while mounting solo exhibitions at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Sikkema & Jenkins Co. in New York, Art Basel Switzerland, and Arratia Beer in Berlin. He is co-editor of the publication SHIFTER, and is Assistant Professor of Studio Art at The University of Illinois at Chicago.