In Praise of Shadows

Image of light in the darkness andrew conti
I blink in uncertainty at this dreamlike luminescence, feeling as though some misty film were blunting my vision. The light from the pale white paper, powerless to dispel the heavy darkness of the alcove, is instead repelled by the darkness, creating a world of confusion where dark and light are indistinguishable. Have not you yourselves sensed a difference in the light that suffuses such a room, a rare tranquility not found in ordinary light? Have you never felt a sort of fear in the face of the ageless, a fear that in that room you might lose all consciousness of the passage of time, that untold years might pass and upon emerging you should find you had grown old and gray?

I’m embracing a world without lights lately. The world of the night, the shadows, and the movements of natural light through dark spaces. I turn off electric lights and let ambient light from outside our home fill the space, and embrace the use of candles and other small (actually tiny) glowing lights as my main source of illumination.

These ideas have become a center of inspiration for me. That in the darkness new thoughts are possible, and that only certain thoughts are possible. That somehow in the dark corners of a dark home on a dark night things are seen and experienced that can’t be seen or experienced any other way.
Out my window now, I look at our neighbors homes, and while dark with the night, still there is the
blaring electric light from some rooms, and the shifty blue glow of a large screen in another. It’s all very familiar of course, very comfortable in a way.
Light, electric light specifically, keeps the shadows at bay. It floods a room with productive possibility. The kind of productivity that empowers the modern office and all the hustling bustling that I imagine goes on there.
But lately, I find myself turning off the lights more and more. Putting aside information and communication for evenings of dark and quiet experience. I’m not shutting down all communication and information mind you, but focusing more on using local forms, like conversation, sketching, and journal writing.
And I’m embracing looking into shadows and the darkness. Embracing what the eyes do there, and the vidual quiet that pervades.
A few months ago I read Junichiro Tanizaki’s book IneiRaissann (陰翳礼讃 ) or In Praise of Shadows. It’s an essay about Japanese aesthetics that hits all kind of points for me. And it has just been hanging around in my mind ever since. Over time it has spread into a kind of longing for me. I keep turning off lights, keep searching for the experiences of darkness and the light that is only possible in unlit spaces.
And, perhaps inevitably for me, I am seeing this desire to stay in darkness longing to come out into my paintings. It has worked into my drawings of late, and is slowly finding its way into my painting.
Tanizaki talks of the unique properties of gold in dark spaces.
“… like the glow upon the horizon at sunset. In no other setting is gold quite so exquisitely beautiful.”
“Modern man, in his well-lit house, knows nothing of the beauty of gold; but those who lived in dark houses of the past were not merely captivated by its beauty, they knew its practical value; for gold, in these dim rooms, must have served the function of reflector.”
This passage keeps floating through my day dreams. I have never been interested in gold or silver. The associations in my mind have always gone to marauding Conquistadors, empty bling, and the ornate decorations of the Catholic church.
But in Tanizaki’s words I find gold and silver becoming increasingly provoking. I’ve been working with some metallic paints lately. Painting in dark, barely lit spaces. Trying to find this exquisite beauty. Trying to find a path towards paintings for dark and quiet rooms.
I’m taken with these ideas in the dark of my home. There is so much to find in this darkness.
You should try it. And tell me what you find.