Ripe, Isabelle Baafi

Ignition Press, 2020    £5.00

Painting in colour

Throughout this collection, Isabelle Baafi animates colour and colours, presenting the material world as inseparable from the work of light.

First, there is the clear binary between black and white, with all the vital layers of meaning those words carry; black and white form the framework for colour/s in this book, the full array of which is much wider than first impressions might suggest.

The word ‘black’ is used often but is also implicit in dark and darkness, in shadows and shade, in all the greys of the greyscale, even in the silver of cupronickel. Elements of black are found in the bl of blood, in the bl of blue, in ravens, in the skin of ripe plantains, and in mildewed carpets, in black-eyed peas and black-kneed women. The word ‘back’ appears so many times that I began to read it occasionally as black. The mind plays tricks.

Blacks, blues and greys appear repeatedly in ‘hotboxing’ in particular but these bruising colours also recur throughout Ripe, with blues and greys emerging in various guises — gravel-handed, jeans, blue eyeshadow, blue curaçao, violet glitter. Even Boots — the name of the retail chain — harbours the construct of blue.

Baafi’s mapping of whiteness is thorough and ingenious. White appears as ‘white’, but more often it communicates and sustains the sense of a base onto which other colours, other ideas, are projected. There are eyes everywhere, predominantly white in colour, and there are quantities of milk. There is a lot of spit. There is ash, dust, bone, teeth, rice, snow, moonlight — all manifesting white and whiteness.

Some of the most striking of other colours cropping up alongside blacks, whites, blues, are reds. Reds are foregrounded repeatedly in blood and bleeding, as well as in red earth, copper, red lace. But reds also occur in oranges, baked beans, corned beef and carrots. They are suggested, in ‘Ouroboros’, in scabs and in

naively soft in a world that chafes.

Closing this magnificent collection for the umpteenth time, I was left with my mind full of body parts, food, and colours — overwhelming impressions of physicality and urgent life.

Clare Best