Research Point: Positive and Negative Space

For some reason my brain is struggling with the concept of positive and negative space, even though I understand negative space to be that which surrounds the main subject of an image. Perhaps it is because it is not always a conscious thing that the eye notices but the brain understands. If I am understanding this correctly, it provides a clear defined boundary between the positive and negative thereby giving the image balance.

The first artist who came to mind was Matisse, one of the original Fauvists.

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Matisse, La Danse (1), 1909

What strikes me most is the apparent simplicity of the composition, perhaps because of the bold negative space, representing the sky and green grass, it gives a sense of movement whilst the colour sets the mood of joy. The dancers seem fairly focused on dancing.

Whilst researching this topic, I came across a Malaysian artist, Tang Yau Hoong, who cleverly tells a story in a simple yet fun way.

Danger-Ahead

Tang Yau Hoong, Danger Ahead

Banksy came to mind too and I found this well known image.

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Banksy, Girl with Balloon Unsigned, 2004

The simplicity of the image makes the message more poignant, is she reaching for something lost or did she let it go on purpose?

Reading Experimental Drawing (again, I know, it’s my go-to resource), Kaupelis gives us a fine example in Georgia O’Keefe.

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Georgia O’Keefe, Drawing IV, 1959, charcoal on paper

It’s simplicity with the barest of details, doesn’t give us much to go on, but on closer inspection it seems the light is coming from both sides. I don’t know why she did this but it makes it a  little mysterious and yet it has life. Kaupelis compares this with deKooning’s work, created in the same year. I couldn’t find the one Kaupelis publishes but here’s a similar one.

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Willem deKooning, Black and White Rome F, 1959,oil on paper

DeKooning clearly painted this quickly, splashing paint around, yet it has a clear structure, his work is expressive and dynamic and I think the negative space here works as a stop.

Clearly the balance between positive and negative space is paramount and needs careful consideration when deciding on the composition of a drawing or painting. It can be used in a striking way to make the object stand out more, or convey emotions and is not just dead space.

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