a disease. And as a figure for the artist, who must now face the limits of a practice that drains life from the world in the process of restoring it, the zombie also marks the limits of dandyish ambivalence.
In publicity portraits, Violette seems at once vacant and vulnerable, flaunting a sharp post-punk haircut and tattoos up to the chin. Ratcliff would probably argue that neither Violette nor Parrino qualify as authentic dandies; their style is too beholden to a certain subcultural milieu and is wholly legible through its codes. According to Ratcliff, the point is not to attract undue attention to one’s appearance; dandyism is all about “the maintenance of [a] frozen equipoise” while nevertheless confounding the expectations of onlookers, subtly but decisively.12 Like the monochrome, the dandy’s attire is “a meaning machine designed not to work,” but it could be argued that it is precisely by importing a look “overburdened with meaning” into the scrupulously muted, neutralized precincts of art that confusion is actively courted here as well.13
Whether attention is focused on the noise within silence (small sounds = white painting) or else the silence within noise (big sounds = black painting), the outcome is, at the extreme, identical: over-stimulation and exhaustion. The mind exposed for too long to a concentrated influx of sameness will tend to drift off in search of difference. In regard to present-day prospects of monochrome painting, this distracting function would seem to predominate. Unable to provide any kind of experiential grounding, it prompts its audience to indulge in a process of association that is not exactly free. Time and again, the same analogies reappear in contemporary art: the rocker and the zombie, twin figures of an already obsolete humanity caught in the loop of repetition compulsion that stubbornly persists against all odds.
In 2005, Brian Kennon published Hello Victims: Ad Reinhardt, a book that features black-and-white reproductions of Reinhardt’s paintings set off against onstage shots of the band Motorhead and stills from the 1978 George Romero film Dawn of the Dead. Deprived of its most sensitive aspects—a deeply embedded coloration and evanescent materiality—Reinhardt’s substantive work is reduced to the basics of
its graphic design: the nine-part subdivision of the monochrome’s surface area into the cruciform. This symbol of passionate resurrection, releasing a purified spirit from mortified flesh, is once again subjected to a dismal spin. Like the zombies, that is, these paintings are granted no escape from the mortal coil, which only tightens while slowly sapping their energy. Documents Remain, the title of an exhibition Kennon mounted at BQ gallery in Berlin, in January 2011, and which featured some of the same imagery, delivers the last word on the matter, for at the end of the day, documents are all that remain. Full earthly presence is compressed into the uni-dimensional data of picture and text, which is then left to decay. This holds as true for the form of Hello Victims as its purported contents, which are documents even before the event of their reproduction. Increasingly, it would seem that the rock-zombie/monochrome dyad is held together not only by aesthetic affinities, but also by an historical arc that proceeds all too rapidly from youth to maturity to decline, the last stage drawn out in a potentially endless succession of stylistic revivals.
Revivalism does not promise rebirth or renaissance, which implies a fresh start. Here, instead, whatever is new, or at least novel, is applied atop the old, which tends to seep through. As noted, the monochrome is always repainted; it is painted over its white ground in a definitive manner—in the black painting, it subsumes it—but then it is also painted over every previous monochrome. Even in its thinnest iterations, such as Wade Guyton’s computer-assisted monochromes, layers of historical information accrue. The line of mis-registration that appears between the two passes that the canvas must travel through the printer in order to be filled up, edge to edge, with black ink recalls Barnett Newman’s sublime Zips, as well as Andy Warhol’s more prosaic glitches of man-machine interface. And that is just to cite two of the most obvious precedents, since we could follow this chain of associations all the way back to its first Suprematist and/or Constructivist link. Every next monochrome is automatically tethered to an origin that marks as well the end of painting overall, but again, this is an end that keeps coming.