Outlines and dark reveals

There’s significance in an outline, especially a black one. Van Gogh began painting objects and subjects with a heavy outline after discovering an aesthetic affinity for Japanese woodcuts, which used the same technique in a flattened space. Consider the pool table in The Night Café (Yale University Art Gallery, 1888), or the coat in Self-portrait with bandaged ear and pipe (private collection, 1889).

In sculpture and architecture, outlines are less common. Objects are three dimensional, after all, why would they require an outline? Yet in buildings where outlines are present, something magical happens: dimensions mix—2D and 3D intertwine. There’s an optical game at play. The world around you becomes a cartoonish, surreal hyper-reality wherein objects gain greater clarity and space recedes. This is a trope in Neil Denari’s work, where dark reveals create outlines at planar junctions. He used this technique in the Alan-Voo House, Endeavor Offices, and L.A. Eyeworks (projects completed 2007, 2004, and 2002 respectively, all located in Los Angeles). At the MUFG sites in Japan, the dark outline is replaced with dark wood against white walls. Another example is a façade restoration of a baroque church in Rome. Sadly, in 2004, when I took this picture I did not record its name. If you recognize it, please let me know; it inspired this post. With black baseboards and an outlined ceiling, The Museum of the City of New York’s lobby displays a similar effect, as shown here with Denari’s “Vert-Eco,” (if you click through) exhibited in 2008.


The subject of the physical outline or reveal, a literal dark boundary painted onto or carved into an object or surface, seems an interesting site to mine—not for meaning, but for progenitors and effects. Perhaps this is the result of the intensely virtual life we live, amongst so many video games with well-defined edges.