Embacy Originals

#000000

Black is the only color

Embacy Originals

You see a red door and you want to paint it black. The white sheets might as well be mulch until knowledge drips on them with black ink.

It is ubiquitous and universal, a favorite of both designers and accountants, of priests and atheists, of the stuck-up and the rebellious. It can be harsh, it can be soothing. It can be plain and mysterious. It is every color and none of them.

Black is certainly our favorite. Here we’ll share some of the range of the best color, from demons to comfy chairs, from the void of space to the ennui of a dark cinema. Let’s light some smokes in the dark.

Color
of Space

In the beginning there was nothing.

The void, that we see as black even if there is no color, is nothing. The darkness is the absence of light. We live in a sprawling universe, the size of which can be barely comprehended only with numbers so high that they sound abstract. And most of it consists of dark matter — which we can’t even see, but call dark anyway.

The same goes for black holes — they aren’t actually black, they just aren’t anything. Planet Earth is blue, hanging lonely in the cold darkness of space. We don’t know what’s in this swirling black.

Color
of Mystery

Francisco Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son,
1819–1823

Francisco Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son, 1819–1823

We do not know what lurks in the dark. We associate the things we don’t understand with an impenetrable darkness, and hence, the black color: the color of witchcraft and all that is unholy. The imps and the demons in soot-black on engravings, the black cats purring on witches’ laps.

Hieronymus BoschThe Garden of Earthly Delights, 1490-1500Museo del Prado, Madrid

Hieronymus Bosch
The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1490-1500
Museo del Prado, Madrid

The color of darkness is the color of superstition and mourning. To this day, we wear black to funerals, because no one knows for certain what lies beyond. That results in everyone at funerals looking quite striking.

John Martin, Le Pandemonium, 1841 
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

John Martin, Le Pandemonium, 1841
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Francisco de Goya, Witches Sabbath, 1819–1823
Photo via Wikimedia Commoms

Francisco de Goya, Witches Sabbath, 1819–1823
Photo via Wikimedia Commoms

Francisco de Goya, Disparates, 1864Museo del Prado

Francisco de Goya, Disparates, 1864
Museo del Prado

Color
of Fashion

Black first became an exquisite option for clothing in the
XIV century, representing dignity and integrity. The
meanings have changed at times through the centuries,
the color remained ubiquitous to this day. The color of chic
and elegance, be it for a little black dress or a sharp suit.

As ubiquitous of a symbol as the olive trees, we’ve come to see doves as an embodiment
of peace. Pure and innocent creatures that symbolize everything that is life — the sacred symbol of Aphrodite is often let out to flutter
at weddings. Kamadeva, the god of love in
Hindu mythology, is often depicted riding a dove.

Color
of Sophistication

Art no longer cares to serve the state and religion, it no longer wishes to illustrate the history of manners, it wants to have nothing further to do with the object, as such, and believes that it can exist, in and for itself, without "things”

Kazimir Malevich, The Non-Objective World:
The Manifesto of Suprematism

Ilya Chashnik, Suprematist Composition, 1920
Photo via Wikimedia Commoms

Ilya Chashnik, Suprematist Composition, 1920
Photo via Wikimedia Commoms

At the beginning of the 20th century, the color black, which had already represented the full spectrum of contradictory notions, became a tool in the hands of abstractionists. They saw their goal to free the perception from unnecessary meanings, that were already overburdening the real world. Art is more than pretty things.

Malevich’s works are what finally separated form from its content, giving the former free reign. He painted his first square in 1913 (or 1915, historians aren’t sure). There will be four of them after all, all with the same idea behind them. Black is 0, the beginning and the end of all colors. And the square, for Malevich at least, is the universal shape, from which all other shapes are made: you can fold it diagonally to make a triangle, spin it for a circle, double it for a rectangle. He believed that by making a black square he got to the roots of everything.

Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko/Artists Rights Society (ARS),A rendering of the chapel with the new skylight and Rothko paintings, 2019New York; Architecture Research Office

Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko,A rendering of the chapel with the new skylight and Rothko paintings, 2019
New York; Architecture Research Office

Malevich had plenty of followers. Ilya Chashnik is considered to be one of them, and he actively used suprematist principles in his body of work. Some futuristic notions arise — the shapes are reminiscent of planets, space stations, and stars. Chashnik’s black isn’t Malevich's beginning of all, quite the opposite — it represents the void.

In Houston, abstract art takes physical shape in Rothko Chapel. The walls of this non-denominational place of worship are covered by 14 massive canvases, all entirely black. This place, dedicated to human rights, arts and spirituality lets you be by yourself, with your dreams and prayers towards everything and nothing.

Metropolis (Lang, 1927)

Color
of Cinema

Metropolis (Lang, 1927)

We think of the 20th century in black and white — despite it, of course, being as colorful as any other period in time. Despite even the fact that many movies from as early as 1902 were colorized, and that the stock simply wasn’t preserved well — we think of the last century in black and white. The turbulent and transformative century seems more elevated this way, a rather elegant and refined age.

Seventh Seal (Bergman, 1957)

Seventh Seal (Bergman, 1957)

Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960)

Far past black and white being a technical limitation, it became an artistic choice. First for the avant-garde in the 60s, while the common viewer deemed that pretentious and unnecessary, up to this very day, when multimillion budgets for CGI won’t impress anymore. Black and white movies are finally reaching mainstream as a subdued and welcomed alternative to the overbearing cacophony of every color known to man.

8 1/2 (Fellini, 1963)

8 1/2 (Fellini, 1963)

Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, 1954)

Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, 1954)

Schindler’s List (Spielberg, 1993)

Schindler’s List (Spielberg, 1993)

Coffee and Cigarettes (Jarmusch, 2003)

Coffee and Cigarettes (Jarmusch, 2003)

The Lighthouse (Eggers, 2019)

The Lighthouse (Eggers, 2019)

“Orson Welles says every performance looks better in black and white, It's the fact that you don't see blue eyes and blond hair. You focus on the performance, not the look of the people. And it enables you to capture the period better.”

Peter Bogdanovich during an interview

The French Dispatch (Anderson, 2021)

The French Dispatch (Anderson, 2021)

Superior paleolithic

Color
of Print

Cave painting of a steppe bison in the cave of Altamira, about 15,000 and 12,000 years ago
Superior paleolithic

We can never know for sure when exactly mankind's relationship with the color began — for all we know, after the invention of fire soot was used to draw to understand the world. The first known use of the color black for expression took place somewhere between 34000 to 15000 BCE, in the cave paintings near what is now Santillana del Mar, a small Spanish town. Charcoal and manganese were used for black outlines, as well as shading and fur.

Superior paleolithic

Altamira Cave, Santillana del Mar, about 15,000 and 12,000 years ago
Superior paleolithic

Traditional Chinese ink usually consisted of animal glue, graphite, and water — and still sees some use today. Even before the Gutenberg press, the combination of black and white was widespread and commonly used due to its readability and easily affordable ink. And now, of course, it is the default.

Stanhope press, 1800s

Stanhope press, 1800s

Hsü Wei, Bambus, 1540-1590Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Hsü Wei, Bambus, 1540-1590
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Aubrey Beardsley, The Dancer's Reward, 1894Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Aubrey Beardsley, The Dancer's Reward, 1894
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Marjory Collins, Printing During The War, 1942

Marjory Collins, Printing During The War, 1942

Marjory Collins, Printing During The War, 1942
Galactic Empire

Color
of Power

The everyday reality is often met with heavy lead clouds hanging right up above it, imposing and menacing, for no matter how used we are to the color, it can still be dangerous and controlling. It can represent expertise that the layman does not possess or fully understand, be that for a black belt in martial arts or that of a suit of a lawyer foreclosing someone’s home. Guns are often black too.

The culturally ingrained idea of “black=evil” is questionable, but it is there and requires examination. Whether, say, Sauron and his orcs, or The Galactic Empire with uniforms inspired by those mid-20th century Hugo Boss designs, black represents power, often enough power of the other, that is unlike us and that which we don’t understand.
It goes back to the fear of the unknown.

Color
of Day-To-Day

We wear black hoodies while sipping coffee (or tea, or coke, or walking down the street with a black can of an energy drink in hand). In spite of all its gravitas, or maybe even because of it, black has also become the default color. It is the color of chairs, headphones, cars and cords, phones, and TVs.

Both the color of premium credit cards and cheap electric appliances, black is the color of our everyday lives. And that’s not as bleak as it sounds.

Nosferatu (Murnau, 1922)

Color
of Fear

Fear is primordial, fear is omnipresent, and fear is what keeps us alive. Today, a reader of Bram Stoker’s Dracula might find the novel to be overwrought and drenched in Victorian values, more twee than scary, it nonetheless did cast a long shadow on how we see and understand fear today.

Nosferatu (1922), the unlicensed adaptation of the novel, is not the first horror movie to be made, but it is the progenitor of all horrors to come. The dreaded Count Orlock, gaunt and hideous with his vermin-like appearance and stilted movement, won’t strike fear into those used to jump scares and other contemporary techniques. Worse yet, his vision will haunt you.

Dracula (Browning, Freund, 1931)

Dracula (Browning, Freund, 1931)

It took less than a decade for vampires to appear as we know them today, cunning and alluring, with the iconic portrayal of Dracula by Bela Lugosi in 1931. Unlike Nosferatu, this movie had sound — which somehow made the vampire all the more fearsome. Not just a vile monster, but a man too, yet with his uncomfortable and overtly theatrical delivery. The establishing shots of Castle Dracula draw from German Expressionism, and the whole movie is impeccably stylized, down to Lugosi’s eyes highlighted with pinpoint lights.

Now black is just an option among many in the toolbox of today’s fear-mongers — Cronenberg’s can be at his most frightening with barely a shadow in sight, Lynch’s terror takes place not under the covers of the night but in gaudy rooms, everything can be even more unnerving in the full bright of day, from Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Midsommar. These days, black is more nuanced and tends to be used sparingly to great effect — it can be grief in The Badabook, or it can be inescapable darkness and loss of control in Get Out.

Get Out (Peele, 2017)

Get Out (Peele, 2017)

Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees, 1980s

Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees, 1980s

Color
of Rebellion

I was all dressed in black she was all dressed up in black
Every thing was fine down here
What you call it here, call it what you will here
Way down down down in this subbacultcha

Pixies — Subbacultcha

Rome's 1980s Goth Scene

Rome's 1980s Goth Scene

Long gone the days since people would proclaim Donnie Darko a masterpiece, and teenage boys suddenly painting their nails black would elicit worry from their parents, rather than a response along the lines of “nice look, kid,
I used to love Morrissey at your age too.” Now,
in this context, black only seems quirky, quaint even.

Inspired by a healthy mix of Victorian horrors, New Wave and Post Punk, goths appeared in the early 1980s, haunting all tomorrow's parties while singing along to The Cure, and daydreaming about weeping at some Paris cemetery. With Satanic Panic remaining a hazy memory of a bygone era, dressing up in all black is now hardly an act of defiance. But it used to be, and it meant everything, and it might come back soon enough.

Outro

Laura (Preminger, 1944)

Laura (Preminger, 1944)

The Postman Always Rings Twice (Rafelson, 1946)

The Postman Always Rings Twice (Rafelson, 1946)

The Long Goodbye (Altman, 1973)

The Long Goodbye (Altman, 1973)

the big sleep (Hawks, 1946)

The big sleep (Hawks, 1946)

Fargo (Coen, Coen, 1996)

Fargo (Coen, Coen, 1996)

The dame walked into the private detective’s office. She gave him
a lookover that would’ve killed a lesser man dead, and he might’ve died on the spot, were he not already knee-deep in some cheap whisky.

“Are you a detective?”, she asked.

“Says so on the door, doesn’t it?”

“No, it doesn’t.”

He poured himself another drink.

“I need to know the meaning of the color black”, she said.

“Ten bucks a day plus expenses”, he said without missing a beat, “symbolism and mumbo-jumbo costs extra.”

She had agreed to the terms, left a hefty advance, and went into the night. The detective lit up a cigarette, looked through the blinds into the street that was darker than usual (not a premonition, just another rainy night), and thought to himself, “Black. It’s damn everything, isn’t it just. It’s what's outside, it’s what's inside. It’s as inconspicuous
as a .22 barrel down your face. I guess I’ll just keep her paying me extra for about a month, then hand her some designer’s book on colors.”