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A black canvas: the story behind the 'Ammonite' painting

By Tessel van der Putte

A male and female looking figure in an embrace, minimal lines and black and white surfaces

A winter ago, I created a painting that was very different from others. Commissioned by an old friend of mine. I called it ‘Ammonite’. Today, I would like to explain why.


In contrast to my usual paintings in which I like using deep and rich colour palettes to emphasise contrast and shape, I decided upon only black and white paint this time, using a black canvas as well - which is something I can really recommend, also when using colour. The painting depicted two figures wrapped in an embrace, appearing in an almost meditative-like state of mind. I wanted the work to exhale a mindfulness and an intimacy that was not necessarily physical or sexual but rather emotional and spiritual. So the first impression of the work is therefore very calming. Underneath all of that though, lies a dynamic composition embodying a spiral-like movement inwards (hence, the title ‘ Ammonite’) to symbolise power and movement we can find in silence.


Ammonite

So, about the colour (or lack thereof): I wanted to play around with finding the right balance of tessellated shapes and lines, shadow and light, while uniting those opposites. The white spheres are an illustration of the person we show to the outside world (and to ourselves) - and the black the shadow sides of those aspects within ourselves, the dualities within, that we rarely come to terms with (even with ourselves). It is this same use of black and white, that reminded me of mindfulness techniques revolving around the practice of balancing ‘the positive and negative’ - the jin and the yang - and those dualities that are all around and within us (think for example of the positive and negative poles in magnetism, day and night, life and death).


By inviting only black and white onto the canvas and by shaping the two figures in this painting in the way I did, I also wanted to portray the dichotomy of feminine and masculine energy, and its interplay within ourselves. As a result of this dance between opposites, the two extremes of the spectrum we call "the feminine and masculine", and in the composition of these two entities that are not very clearly separated from each other either, we find an ‘internal movement’ towards the centre of the canvas. The composition turns inward in an almost ammonite-like fashion, or like a foetus in the womb of its mother. It is not yet existing and finds itself in a “dreamtime-like state of safety” (yes "it" because in essence, the two figures are one). In a way, we are all always evolving, moving and growing through our experiences and in our connections with the different parts of ourselves and with each other.

I hope this painting may be perceived as healing, a kinaesthetic memory of safety, and that it conveys a story of how we are all capable of reconnecting with ourselves and the world around us. It all starts in finding serene silence, so we can listen and find that internal dialogue with ourselves. It is then that we can uncover the ammonite of emotions that grows within us all, spiralling down into the deep of our being and unconsciousness through our lifetime. In that space, we can feel safe and trust in ourselves again.


'Ammonite' acrylic on canvas, 80 x 80 x 5 cm.