What is a painting? A question we ask ourselves over and over as we ponder “Is it done?” The answers are many, but the simplest definition involves a collection of marks and shapes made in paint on a 2-dimensional surface. The logical next descrption would include formal elements and principles of art which we recently talked about. But it would take volumes to fully explore the theories and contradictions of what painting is (James Elkins tried it in one volume–not enough, but a good read) and still we would not have anything concrete. Art, indeed, remains a mystery. However we continue to try and crack its code.
So continuing with the elements of art, on some lists (of course, not everyone agrees on this either) the element of space is to be considered. What is space in the context of painting? A Wikipedia answer: Space is the area provided for a particular purpose. Space includes the background, foreground and middle ground. Space refers to the distances or areas around, between or within components of a piece. There are two types of space: positive and negative space. Positive space refers to the space of a shape representing the subject matter. Negative space refers to the space around and between the subject matter. Space is also defined as the distance between identifiable points or planes in a work of art.
This week we are going to explore “significant space”, a term defined by architect and painter, Jeffrey Hildner. He describes: ”Significant Space results when artists treat solids and voids as interdependent abstract elements of the visual field.”
You do this all of the time, even if you are not an abstract painter and are not aware of this spatial manipulation.
Space manipulation, a hallmark of modern art began mostly with Cezanne. He was considered the father of modern art largely for his approach to form and space. But it really goes back to (at least) Manet who used flat space and shallow volumes in his pictures and created form “not through a gradual blending of tones, but with discrete areas of color side by side.” NGA. A direct line can be traced from Manet’s “Olympia” to Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park Series.
Many of you struggle with creating deep space and volume with tone. Once that is conquered, the battle becomes creating a tension by handling the space in non-traditional and unexpected ways. We are going to play with both of these concepts. Find a subject to be represented in two ways. It can either be an object, or several, or a photo. (consider room). Prepare either a single sheet large enough for two paintings divided or two substrates the same size, approximately 12” x 16”. ( A full sheet of watercolor paper is 22″ x 30″, so you might want to tape off a similar size.)