For most of us, the colour grey signifies a certain functional dullness or lack of character. For centuries, however, artists have recognized grey as an ambiguous colour, one that is never pure but is defined by the colours around it. In the early 1880s, Vincent Van Gogh expressed surprised at the "endless variations" of the colour grey in letters to his brother, Theo. Eight decades later, Gerhard Richter started to use grey as the "wretched starting point" for his distinctive paintings.
Jessica Thalmann's recent work draws inspiration from David Batchelor's book The Luminous and the Grey (2014), in which the London, U.K.-based artist defends grey's role in enhancing the sense of "delirium, pleasure, delight, wonder" that we experience before more "luminous" colours. Combined with this interest in colour is Thalmann's long-time interest in architecture, especially the Brutalist architecture of the 1960s and 70s. (A notable example being the Robarts Library at U of T .)
For her work, Thalmann photographs buildings and streetscapes, which she then reworks by cutting, folding,
re-arranging and overlaying with geometric areas of colour, drawing attention to architectural details and forms.
While some have a love-hate relationship with the hard angles and stark concrete, glass and steel construction of modernist buildings, Thalmann finds in them opportunities to examine how - as Batchelor puts it - the city's luminous colour "seeps, spills, bleeds and stains" across these "neutral" surfaces. Printing stripes of red, teal and yellow within the folds of her photo-objects, Thalmann creates optical illusions - like that of light cast by neon signs - that subtly animate the surfaces of her prints, illustrating how images can be formally manipulated to achieve the same state of 'object-ness' as the things they picture.
Artists like Daniel Buren, Barbara Kasten, Walead Beshty and Liz Deschenes may spring to mind when looking at Thalmann's work. Like them, Thalmann's uses light, colour, form and, yes, grey, to deconstruct and delineate architectural spaces so we can better discern their easily overlooked, yet marvelous, qualities.