Project One – Research point: Positive and negative spaces

With this research I will look into the concept of positive and negative space, and how art practitioners are incorporating this in their works. Patrick Caulfield and Gary Hume, both mentioned in the course material, are both related more or less to Pop-Art. There is an interesting article about their group exhibition in Tate, London from Fox,D. (2013) in the Frieze magazine.

I wanted to see how other non Pop-Art artists are using the concept of positive and negative space. There are two that keep my attention: Edvard Munch (1863 – 1944) whom I really love for his paintings and graphics on the human mind and mental behavior. As a more contemporary artist I was attracted by the works of the south african draughtsmen and creator of animated films. He did some astonishing charcoal drawings. Based on my tutor’s feedback, working more on charcoal technique and negative space, I want to look deeper how those artists are doing it.

Edvard Munch did some expressive graphic works (woodcuts, lithos), sometimes rather clearer in the message than his related paintings: black and white spaces with partly color added. For me good examples are ‘The Woman (Kvinnen), 1899’ and ‘The Woman II (Kvinnen II), 1895’ . In the positive space, the women, is he blocking in the overall shapes, with only a few details in the faces. He is combing black and white shapes, as he is doing it in the negative space, where he is putting some shapes that indicate the location. With a very few marks he is conveying a clear message (narrative) the viewer can understand. Through some flatness of the shapes in both positive and negative spaces some shapes are nearly melting together (black in black and white in white) Only some marks are indicating the boarder. This shows how Munch is using positive and negative spaces aongside with emblematic shapes to create a kind of mythic atmosphere that triggers the imagination of the viewer.

Another example of Munch is his work ‘Moonlight. Night in St.Cloud (Maneskinn. Natt i St.Cloud), 1895’ Here the negative space is very dominant, dark shadow and light shapes are splitting the composition in nearly 9 segments. Only lightly indicated is the postive shape of a man at the window. This piece lives for the bold contrasts of dark and light, as well as the balance in the composition.

Stefan513593 - project - research point - Edvard Munch

Stefan513593 – project – research point – Edvard Munch

William Kentridge combines his drawings also with installations. His two works ‘Growing old from little morals, 1991’ and ‘Reserve army from little morals, 1991’ are good examples for me how the artist is playing with positive and negative space. He combines even two picture planes. At the bottom of both pictures there is the perception of another space, a kind of floor. This makes the drawing above like a drawing on a wall. The few objects with shadows at the bottom of the picture support and enforces further this perception.  Without this lower part, the drawings are perceived as landscapes with depth. Kentridge plays here with depth perception through managing negative space. In the upper negative spaces (sky?) of the drawings he is applying expressive short marks. Overall the two works are an illusionistic interplay with negative space and depth.

A very different work is his charcoal piece ‘Mine, 1991’. This work is from his animated ‘drawing’-film (see reference). What I can see in this drawing is his expressive usage of nagative space. The positive space, the miners at work, seems like holes in the picture. The effect of their drilling work in the negative space is marked with light erased shapes. There is a lot of back and force ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ drawing (charcoal <=> rubber). I really like this expressive usage of the rubber. I will try this more in my sketchbook.

Stefan513593 - project 1 - research point - William Kentridge

Stefan513593 – project 1 – research point – William Kentridge



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