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210 × 150 × 8 mm
128 pages
5 colour illustrations
01 Feb 2014

The Luminous and the Grey David Batchelor

Colour is a given of most people’s everyday lives, but at the same time it lies at the limits of language and understanding. David Batchelor’s previous book for Reaktion, Chromophobia, addressed the extremes of love and loathing that colour has provoked since antiquity. This book charts more ambiguous terrain.

The Luminous and the Grey is a study of the places where colour comes into being and where it fades away, an inquiry into when colour begins and when it ends, both in the material world and in the imagination. Batchelor draws on a wide range of material, including neuroscience, philosophy, literature, film and the writings of artists; and makes use of his own experience as an artist who has worked with colour for more than twenty years.

After considering the place of colour in some creation myths, in industrial chemistry, in recent thinking on optics and in the specific forms of luminosity that saturate the modern city, the book culminates in a meditation on the unique colour that is also a non-colour, a mood, a feeling, an existential condition and even an insult: grey.

‘a rich meditation on colour . . . Batchelor is an exhilarating writer to read and think with he wears his research and scholarship lightly, while never belying the seriousness of his endeavor.’ — West 86th

‘All theory is grey, Mephistopheles pronounces in Goethes Faust. But greyness is the last thing to hold against David Batchelors colourful essay, The Luminous and the Grey. In three short chapters, the London-based artist-author offers to vindicatea colour without a colour that does so much of the unpaid housework in what we see and what artists make . . . Batchelor ranges wide, touching on art, film, optics and philosophy. His main point is that, contrary to reputation, grey can be bright, engaging and luminous.’ — RA Magazine

‘Although a measured and carefully researched book, it also takes the reader by surprise, particularly in the run up to the final section on grey, where at first we have a re-run of the many prejudices to be found against this colour, but then suddenly Batchelor turns this around and allows all the bad feeling to unravel. He moves elegantly to a subtle and thought-provoking reflection that draws upon a wide range of sources including his personal reflections . . . Batchelor literally delves into ideas about grey and goes further and deeper than I have come across . . . Great read.’ — Cassone Art Review

‘Praise for Chromophobia: Full of good writing, good anecdotes, devastating quotes, deft arguments, and just the sort of mysterious anomalies one would expect from an artist writing about the enemies of his practice.’ — Dave Hickey, Bookforum

‘A hugely entertaining guide to our ongoing obsession with white.’ — Time Out

‘A provocative contribution to the discourse of color theory.’ — James Meyer, Artforum

‘This beautifully produced book is an intelligent and provocative essay on why Western culture hates and fears colour. The prose is cumulative and passionate in its effect and widely referential from Barthes to Melville, Wim Wenders to Huysmans . . . you cannot fail to be stimulated by his thoughts.’ — RA Magazine

‘Switching from novels and movies to art and architecture, Batchelor clearly and cleverly traces the cultural implications of the 100 year-plus Colour War between Chromophobes like Le Corbusier, with their hosannas to whiteness, and Chromophiliacs like Warhol, the great artist of cosmetics. A succinct book of art theory which goes down smoothly.’ — i-D Magazine

‘Batchelor has found an irresistible selection of anecdotes and quotes relating to the experience of color ... thoughtful and entertaining.’ — Tema Celeste

‘a theoretical and cultural banquet . . . The books narrative quality goes beyond the telling of color theorys history and other approaches to color, coming to read like a psychological thriller: how the West crushed color or at least thought it did so.’ — New Art Examiner, Chicago

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David Batchelor is an artist and writer based in London, and the author of Chromophobia (Reaktion, 2001) and The Luminous and the Grey (Reaktion, 2014).


1. The Beginning and the End of Colour

2. The Luminous and the Grey

3. The Grey and the Luminous

List of Illustrations