Tag Archives: Matisse

Positive and Negative Space

Positive space refers to the main focus of a picture, while negative space refers to the background.  Negative space is more complex than simply the background of a picture. Without negative space, the positive would have no meaning.

I started to research Patrick Caulfield as an example of the use of negative space in art, and was immediately drawn to look at  Matisse, by the notes in the course book that he had been one of Caulfield’s major influences.

matisseicarusv2

Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954) Icarus 1946  http://www.tate.org.uk/about/press-office/press-releases/henri-matisse-cut-outs

When ill health prevented Matisse from painting in later life, he began to cut into painted paper with scissors to create outlines that take on sculptural form. Using vivid colours evoking the luminosity of stained glass, these cut-outs are a clear example of the use of negative space to suggest form.  In this picture there is no actual detail of either the figure or the background, but somehow your eye fills in the gaps and almost creates detail that is not there.

Patrick Caulfield (1936-2005) is a 20th century artist who extensively explores the use of negative space in his art.  His work tends to use flat blocks of colour and clear edges and lines; often flattening 3D forms into 2D shapes.  In the following three images from http://www.tate.org.uk vases of flowers are reduced into just flat shapes and silhouettes.

Vases of Flowers 1962 Patrick Caulfield 1936-2005 Purchased with assistance from the Tate Gallery Publications Department and the Trustees of the Tate Gallery Trust Fund 1976 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T02031
Vases of Flowers 1962 Patrick Caulfield 1936-2005 Purchased with assistance from the Tate Gallery Publications Department and the Trustees of the Tate Gallery Trust Fund 1976 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T02031
Black and White Flower Piece 1963 Patrick Caulfield 1936-2005 Purchased with funds provided by the Knapping Fund 1991 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T05853
Black and White Flower Piece 1963 Patrick Caulfield 1936-2005 Purchased with funds provided by the Knapping Fund 1991 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T0585

In the Black and White Flower Piece (above) the black parts of the vase blend completely into the black background- although your eye tends to fill in the invisible shape based on the assumption that it will be symmetrical with the other white side of the vase.  The flowers are suggested just by white shapes and by outlining and filling in areas of black shadow.

[no title] 1976 Patrick Caulfield 1936-2005 Presented by Bernard Jacobson Gallery 1976 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P03151
[no title] 1976 Patrick Caulfield 1936-2005 Presented by Bernard Jacobson Gallery 1976 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P03151
In this final picture, the vase and flowers seem to be simplified again, into flat, broad, black outlines and black shapes indicating shadow.  I suspect that if there were no shadow under the vase, the picture would just look like a flat floral pattern.  However, the shadow under the vase and the triangular grey area on the left of the picture, (indicating the edge of a table(?)), give this otherwise 2D image a sense of 3D form.

M. C. Escher was a master at creating drawings where there was no distinction between positive and negative space. Here is an example of Escher’s work which show the interplay between positive and negative space:

M.C. Escher

Research Point- Still Life Genre

I looked at Oxford art online and Bridgeman Education Library and various other links specific to particular artists to explore the development of the Still Life Genre.

Still Life (or Nature Morte) emerged as an independent art form towards the end of the 16th century in Spain, Italy, Flanders.  It allowed the status of the work to reflect the vision and skill of its creator rather than its subject matter. It was an opportunity to display skill, realistic light effects, colours and textures.  A Still Life was  traditionally meant to be read for its allegorical message- especially in the vanities theme of the frailty of human life.

allegory_of_the_vanities

HARMEN STEENWYCK (1612-1656)

‘Still Life: An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life’ by Harmen Steenwyck 1640 is a classic example of a Dutch ‘Vanitas’ painting. It is essentially a religious works in the guise of a still life. ‘Vanitas’ paintings caution the viewer to be careful about placing too much importance in the wealth and pleasures of this life, as they could become an obstacle on the path to salvation. The title ‘Vanitas’ comes from a quotation from the Book of Ecclesiastes 1:2, ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’  from http://www.artyfactory.com/art_appreciation/still_life/harmen_steenwyck.htm

By the 18th century a lot of the religious/ allegorical meanings of the still life were dropped.  Typical of this era were kitchen table paintings featuring everyday foods and paintings to reflect the extravagance of life.

In the 19th century, the academic approach to still life was dropped and artists discovered a freedom to experiment.  The Impressionists explored colour and Cezanne gave still life a structure from which cubism is partially derived.  Cezanne is thought to be the most significant 19th century still life painter.  He was fascinated by optics and tried to reduce naturally occurring forms to their geometric essentials—the cone, the cube, the sphere. He used layers of color on these shapes to build up surfaces, outlining the forms for emphasis..  Other artists from this period include Van Gogh who expressed a weight of meaning in his still life paintings. Also Goya, Renoir, and Monet were key still life artists of this period.

Cezanne.-Still-Life-with-Apples-469x341

Paul Cezanne- Still life with apples   https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/paul-cezanne-still-life-with-apples-1895-98

In the 20th century art became essentially about the creation of new orderings of shape and appearance and still life was reinvented in a myriad of ways.  Henri Matisse for example pushed the boundaries of colour.  A lot of pop art is based on still life and the iconography of images. e.g. Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans (1962)   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campbell%27s_Soup_Cans

Henri Matisse - Still life with Geraniums (1910)
Henri Matisse – Still life with Geraniums (1910)

http://gohighbrow.com/henri-matisse/

In Patrick Caulfield’s work, including vases of flowers,  (1962) the elements of the still life are honed back to the bare minimum- flat outlines of objects against angular geometric shapes and unmodulated areas of colour.

Vases of Flowers 1962 Patrick Caulfield 1936-2005 Purchased with assistance from the Tate Gallery Publications Department and the Trustees of the Tate Gallery Trust Fund 1976 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T02031
Vases of Flowers 1962 Patrick Caulfield 1936-2005 Purchased with assistance from the Tate Gallery Publications Department and the Trustees of the Tate Gallery Trust Fund 1976 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T02031

Cubists such as Braque and Picasso used colour, line, and outline to shatter the boundaries around objects- representing objects from several view points at the same time.

pablo_picasso_still_life_with_skull_leeks_and_pitcherhttp://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-liverpool/exhibition/picasso-peace-and-freedom/picasso-peace-and-freedom-explore-1
In Pablo Picasso’s Still Life with Skull, Leeks and Pitcher  1945, the symbolism of the vanities is re-invoked, reminding the viewer of the transience of human existence

Contemporary artists, for example Peter Jones and Cindy Wright, http://www.theguardian.com/culture/gallery/2013/oct/19/10-best-contemporary-still-lifes  are presenting a fresh new outlook on elements of the still life.  Many artists are exploring new media- such as photography and the digital age.  There is a freedom to explore the morbid, macabre and horrific, as well as the mundane and beautiful, and to focus on elements of the image rather than the whole.

Conversely, painters such as Tim Gustard almost swing back to the original Dutch 17th Century tradition with paintings of utmost photo-realism and more traditional compositions .   tim-gustard-the-kitchen-tablehttp://www.totteridgegallery.com/artist/tim-gustard/the-kitchen-table.html