Celebrating Ancient Art As Medicine [TIFF]

“The Colour of Ink” might be one of the most effortlessly beautiful documentaries I’ve ever watched — through Johnson’s eyes, cliff faces, ocean sunsets, and city streets are just as beautiful as the artwork celebrated throughout. Vivid, expressive shots force you to confront the nuances, imperfections, textures, and pure spirit of the world around us. Great attention is paid to capturing the processes as much as possible, whether it be Jason Logan gathering materials from the woods, or tattoo artist Roxx working on a piece, wiping away droplets of blood and ink off her client’s skin. It’s a surprisingly tactile film (so many shots of Logan spreading ink with his fingertips!) and that really forces the viewer to confront the effort behind the craftsmanship and artwork. As Logan tells Canadian author Margaret Atwood, he creates “living ink” — it’s not as stable or reliable as the stuff you buy at Walmart, but that’s the whole point. It’s unique. It changes. It’s “alive.” 

The film is packed with delightful imagery that is constantly reinforcing themes of natural grandeur and human wonder, juxtaposed with deeply personal and intimate moments. In one scene, a woman stands in an old marble quarry, her tiny frame flanked by two massive walls of straight white stone. In the next, Logan quietly sits at his cozy in-home workstation, mixing the marble powder into a bright white ink. Later, we get to see classically trained Islamic calligrapher Soraya Syed using the specially made white ink for a project steeped in her Arabic heritage. This journey from awe-inspiring nature to individual craftsmanship to artwork as spirituality is a pattern repeated throughout “The Colour of Ink,” and the message is clear: humankind is so small in the grand scheme of things, and art helps us stay grounded. Art connects us to our past and our future. Art is medicine. 

Ink is a part of our human history — practically in our DNA — but thanks to industry and mass production, we’ve lost touch with that part of ourselves. In 2022, with the rise of soulless, deeply ugly NFTs and fears about AI Art Generators displacing designers, it feels so prescient to take a step back and look at something we all take for granted every day: the color of ink. 

/Film rating: 8.5 out of 10

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