Black Ice 2002 is medium-size etching that features abstract black ripple-type shapes interspersed with areas of blank white paper. The black forms are spread across the image and are watery in appearance, giving the impression of puddles or spilt liquid. The patches of white recur throughout the composition, but are brightest in its middle section, while the rest of the print is dominated by tones of black of varying depth. It is not clear if the work represents a scene, but its watery effect and its contrasting dark and light tones suggest a blurred photographic image of an outdoor setting or of natural materials. The multiple lines that make up the image as a result of the etching process create a textured appearance that enhances the effect of tactility in the composition.
Black Ice was created by the British artist Anya Gallaccio in her London studio in 2002 as part of a commission of two prints for Dundee Contemporary Arts, Scotland. The other work in the pair, which is also owned by Tate, is a screenprint on a reflective acrylic surface entitled White Ice 2002 (Tate P78917). Gallaccio created Black Ice by photographing melting ice and then digitally manipulating the resultant image. She subsequently transferred this to a large steel etching plate onto which she then etched the image. Finally, Gallaccio dipped the etched plate into ink and printed the composition onto the paper.
The work’s title suggests that the dark shapes in the scene represent patches of melted and refrozen ice, the product of which is commonly known as ‘black ice’ even though it is in fact clear in appearance. The use of the word ‘black’ in the title sets the work aside from its companion, White Ice, which also depicts an ambiguous scene related to this natural material. However, where the crisp brightness of White Ice suggests an idyllic winter scene, the darker tones of Black Ice create a more sinister atmosphere, conjuring associations with dangerously icy conditions on roads and paths that are often caused by black ice.
In Black Ice, Gallacio’s use of a photograph of melting ice, as well as the presence in the background of dark patches that resemble ripples, may refer to the commencement of the natural freezing, melting and refreezing process that is the result of seasonal temperature shifts. Black Ice can therefore be seen in the context of Gallaccio’s interest in natural changes and their visual effects when witnessed over time, the exploration of which has preoccupied the artist throughout her career. Gallaccio stated in 2013 that:
My work obviously reflects loss, or the fragility of life, but … the accumulative, the building up of material and of waste; the regenerative, is important and often overlooked. Within the decay there is a constant process at work; it is cyclical, durational.
(Quoted in Bryson 2013, p.243.)
In Black Ice, the scene is the result of natural materials melting away and then building up again, which could represent a form of decay and accumulation as described by Gallaccio. The artist has not indicated whether Black Ice and White Ice are intended to be viewed in any particular order, and as such the pair could allude to the cyclical processes by which natural materials such as ice will continue to move between these various states of solidity and liquidity.
Gallaccio is part of a generation of artists known as the Young British Artists who studied at Goldsmiths College in London between 1985 and 1988. She exhibited alongside members of this group in Damien Hirst’s landmark exhibition Freeze in London’s Dockyards in 1988, and is now well known for her installation works that feature flowers, sugar, chocolate and other perishable materials. Gallaccio made Black Ice in the same year that she was commissioned to create an installation for Tate Britain’s Duveen Galleries. This work, beat 2002, also focused on natural processes – it consisted of real tree trunks with their branches removed, positioned around the gallery. The commission was a critical success, receiving praise from the art critic Simon Schama for its ‘quizzical intelligence and passionate intensity’ (Simon Schama, ‘Roots’, Guardian, 14 September 2002, http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2002/sep/14/art.turnerprize2003, accessed 10 November 2014), and the following year Gallaccio was nominated for the Turner Prize.
Rebecca Fortnum, Contemporary British Women Artists: In Their Own Words, London 2007.
Jeremy Cooper, Growing Up: The Young British Artists at 50, London and New York 2012.
Norman Bryson, Anya Gallaccio, London 2013.
Supported by Christie’s.