Neither Black Nor White


Yes or no; this or that; here or there; in or out; right or wrong; win or lose—you get the idea. 

“Coming Together”

Niki de Saint Phalle‘s monumental sculpture in San Diego called “Coming Together,” is one of our favorites. But upon closer inspection, it’s more complex than we first thought. Perhaps she is challenging the notion of dualism—basically saying there is no such thing. We are holistic creatures in a holistic universe. Anything that splits, divides, or separates into pieces and parts is creating a mere illusion. Each time we walk by her magical sculpture, we see something different, depending on our position, perspective, attitude or even with the changing angle of the sun. Today, we looked again and meandered deeper into its symbolism and meaning. 

The white tiles?

Wow! What a beautiful California morning—cloudless blue sky, bright sun, everything was gleaming. A morning walk takes us right past the sculpture, so naturally we glanced over, from atop the Harbor Drive Footbridge. Hmm. It seemed different. There was something unnoticed before. In the “black and white” section of the figure’s face, the colors seemed to have shifted, no longer just black and white. Instead, the white tiles were dancing with various subtle pearlescent colors, prompting closer inspection. We walked across the bridge and down the street for another look. Sure enough, the sun was hitting the form in such a way that, what we thought were simply white tiles, shimmered with a multi-colored effect. It was fantastic!

Niki’s art has many layers of colorful and playful meaning and it’s no surprise that she would design such an amusing visual trick into her work. For us, the new discovery was an intriguing detail that only makes this piece more significant.

Shadow and Light

Overall, she seems to be saying that light and shadow are always at play—in both her art and within humanity. Every light casts a shadow and every shadow needs light for contrast. Is this a fundamental truth of existence? From Harbor Drive, the sculpture appears to be a rather simplistic dichotomy. Over half is colorful, curvilinear and dynamic, while the other smaller section of the face is devoid of color, hard-edged and static. We interpret this as a simple way of saying that we’re composed of both. But, the bright side is dominant. Love, joy and compassion will always carry the day!

Gentle convex curve from the front

We also notice the gentle curve of the face. From the front, it’s convex, suggesting a proud and transparent, public face to the world. Conversely, the back side becomes concave. Our interpretation is that both are necessary. The public side hints that there is also a very private inner world, perhaps rarely seen. Behind the colors are muted tones. Behind the black and white is a kaleidoscope of color. They balance one another. However, nowhere do you see light without shadow and shadow without light. 

Then, surprise! We discovered today that what we thought was black and white is really full of color. Does that mean that even the shadow has meaning, purpose and beauty? Maybe it’s not so bad after all—no need to hide it away. For us, the answer is yes. As the famous Sinatra song from the 50s says “you can’t have one without the other.” Embrace it all!

Life is an ongoing effort to integrate the pieces and parts—revealing wholeness rather than division. Our task is to bind together the seemingly opposite parts. Life is truly “Coming Together.”

End of the Line

As an aside and reminder, years ago we wrote a song called, “End of the Line,” that describes that ongoing challenge to see the subtle, the nuance.