Black and White Paintings

In a world full of colour why do people still hang black and white paintings or photos on their walls? Is it nostalgia or something else? Have you ever looked at black and white paintings and felt an emotion, perhaps of a time gone by? Are black and white images popular because they allow the mind to complete and create its own perfect idea of a memory? Do black and white images stir a reawakening of memories long forgotten?

Monochrome Paintings

Monochrome artwork is a type of artwork created in a single colour, and often refers to black and white art. It commonly utilises various shades or tints to create texture and perspective. For centuries artists used different shades of brown or black ink to create monochrome pictures on paper. The ink would simply be diluted to achieve the required shades.  

Rembrandt Christ healing the sick
Rembrandt, Christ Healing The Sick c.1647-1649

Paintings by old masters and of old masters such as Jan Van Eyck, Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt van Rijn, and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres also were produced in monochrome.

Black and White Art

With his selection of black and white paintings, artist Theo Michael affirms the previous questions. Yes, his artwork stirs emotions and reminds us of an era gone by. These are powerful paintings with careful bursts of colour that almost surprise the viewer and elevate the overall experience of the work through their restraint colour palette. A whole spectrum of shades is achieved by simply using the two complimentary colours of Ultra Marine Blue and Burnt Sienna.

Nightlife

  • black and white painting of a bar/restaurant by Theo Michael titled The Art Cafe

    In Nightlife Theo paints an eclectic bar full of cinematic memorabilia. Just captured on the left is an old movie projector. ‘Have you got a light?’ a woman asks. Theo’s noir motif is again on display as a man in a Fedora hat lights a cigarette for a woman who is seated seductively and leaning forward.
    Theo’s choice of colour here is restrained to skin tones and hair.  A bartender, working diligently behind the counter as the romantic interlude continues, happens to be the owner and kindly modelled for this painting. All of the bottles of alcohol are captured with a sense of impending movement and realistic details, further elevating the scene and characterising the bar. We are left to wonder about the night ahead for all of the characters before us.

    Night Life painting by Theo Michael May 2014

Cheers

  • black and white painting Cheers by Theo Michael

    Theo makes similar choices in Cheers as a small gathering of men clink glasses in celebration of something unknown. They could be marking an event or simply enjoying each other’s company in salute, it is left for the viewer to decide. A cleaner and waiter clearly want to go home as their shift has ended, watch on from the right hand side of the painting adding more gravitas to the moment. Their perspective is our perspective and in many ways this painting has a three dimensional effect of allowing us to see the moment from different angles and characters' views.

    Cheers painting by Theo Michael

London Underground

This black and white painting is a study to Theo’s oil painting Let’s Get To Work, It is a presentation of subjects in the middle of a hectic commute. Once again the use of colour is restrained to skin tones, and our subjects stroll passionately towards us in the midst of their busy day. On the double decker bus we can see advertisements for West End Musicals Miss Saigon and Les Miserables further characterising the typically London scene, alongside a London black cab whizzing in front of the bus. Grabbing a newspaper was part of the daily routine, and each character in the painting clutches his preferred choice under his arm. Billboard advertising was very popular and the evening standard poster attached to the railing was an everyday sight.
In the back one man is poised standing debating whether to go into the underground station, seemingly unsure, creating a greater sense of movement amongst the three other men.

London Underground painting by Theo Michael

Black and white painting, The Sure Bet by Theo Michael

The Sure Bet

The Sure Bet is a more singular and dynamic painting featuring a single subject standing against a plain wall. The figure is accented by the cast shadow on the wall giving the person an almost sculptural effect. The newspaper is called “Favourite” and features a news article about a horse named Outlaw winning a race. Our subject peruses the pages knowingly and we are left to imagine the systems and instincts he has in place to assess the bets that he is going to place. In addition to skin tones that are colourised here Theo also colours the man’s tie in a deep crimson red. This conjures an almost vampiric power to the image in our minds and further adds a sense of drama to the stillness of the scene.
The painting is called The Sure Bet and one wonders if there is such a thing...

The Sure Bet painting by Theo Michael

The Kiss

  • black and white painting, The Kiss by Theo Michael

    Where The Sure Bet hints at drama the painting The Kiss picks up with a scene that is full of it. Here Theo discards restraint for unbridled passion and romance. Landmark pillars populate the background and we are transported into a damaged but powerful Greek history with the lifelike detail that Theo captures throughout the image. In the foreground a couple are embracing. Here only skin tones are colorized creating more drama and bucket loads of sensuality. Theo’s private eye character is enraptured by his female dance partner, and his hands are clutching to her arms, and she is falling, helplessly, into his embrace. This painting captures a tender moment and fixes it permanently in time.

The Art Cafe

  • black and white painting, the Art Cafe 1900 by Theo Michael a bar and restaurant in Larnaca Cyprus

    The restaurant The Art Cafe 1900 is another recurrent character in Theo’s artwork, as he has also painted this scene in full colour without any people present. Here in black and white it casts a more sombre and serious tone than the playful and inviting full colour painting. A classic car has pulled up in the drive and an elegant, exotically dressed woman is exiting on the passenger side.
    We wonder if the man is waiting for the woman in the vehicle or if she is going inside to meet with someone else. A small cigarette stub burning in the man's hand adds a typical art noir motif. Somehow the characters are connected even though they are looking away from each other.

    The Art Cafe 1900, painting by Theo Michael July 2007

Black and White Art

Theo’s artwork is always full of the artist challenging himself with new styles and settings. But, his artwork always remains a celebration of romance, as well as his surroundings. His signature noir motifs tell us stories about dangerous men, and the women who are attracted to them. The paintings also tell stories about everyday life and the moments we miss around us when we are not paying attention. 

These monochrome paintings are pictures that are mainly black and white and yet remain as colourful and as interesting as any of Theo's other work. Colour isn’t just a medium it is also a metaphor and that is what makes all of these paintings so effective. They tell stories that feed our imagination. They also lend a diverse range and fascinating adjunct to Theo’s constantly expanding repertoire of art. 

As Canadian photo journalist, Ted Grant, is quoted as saying “When you photograph people in colour, you photograph their clothes. But, when you photograph in black and white, you photograph their souls.”

Author Marc Michael, March 2nd 2022