The Truth is Always Grey: Painting From Grisaille to Gerhard Richter analyzes the concerns of twentieth-century painting as they converge in the considerable output in grey of some of the most celebrated modernist painters. It gives equal attention to the grey works of European early and late modernists such as Goya, Turner, Manet and Giacommetti, and to the canvases of American modernists such as Jasper Johns, Cy Twombly, Agnes Martin. The final chapter of The Truth is Always Grey is devoted to the grey paintings of the German painter Gerhard Richter, works that see the culmination of the concerns of grey painting in the twentieth century. On Richter’s grey canvases, I locate an aesthetics of painting, of modernism, of grey.
The Truth is Always Grey claims that grey is a color used by painters to interrogate the identity of painting, questions that reach their most urgent and concentrated consideration in the high-modernist works of the second half of the twentieth century, and go on to see their most powerful evocation on Richter’s grey canvases. To this end, the book interrogates issues such as: the ambivalence of modernist artists towards their own authority, the ambiguity of the distinction between painting and other art forms, and modernist concerns such as the tension between surface and depth, the denigration of vision, the role of painting in the political and social public spheres.
While art historians and critics have insisted throughout the centuries that grey is not a color, that it is a non-color, “The Truth is Always Grey” argues and demonstrates that grey is indeed a color. Moreover, grey is the color in which the processes of painting and the concerns that have preoccupied painters for centuries are most powerfully and consistently confronted in the twentieth century. The book commences with an historical analysis of the use of grey from fourteenth century Italian painting, and fifteenth-century Flanders onwards to demonstrate grey painting’s long history of reflecting on the identity of painting as a medium. This consideration of grisaille is the basis of the project’s claim that the particular uses of grey paint in the modernist twentieth century are historical.
Lastly, through this discussion of the historical dimensions of grey painting, i argue that, far from being esoteric and inaccessible to the non-art historian, modernist painting is only completed through its interaction with the viewer’s response, any viewer’s response. Through the ineffability and fluidity of grey as a color, painting in grey enjoys an openness and accessibility that is contrary to the hierarchical privilege given to modernist painting by the overwhelming majority of critics and commentators.