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Columns : Art Life - Susan Mackay Last Updated: Feb 6, 2017 - 2:32:04 PM

The Weight of Space
By Susan Mackay
Nov 2, 2006 - 4:03:55 PM

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The Weight of Space

I am emailing a friend - writing to communicate some part of myself. I believe I am fully expressing all that I want to say even beyond the actual sentences that I use. It is important to me, the meaning hidden behind the words that I have written. The ones trailing in and out - actual memories and conversations we have had that I may make oblique reference to in my sentences - creating a space that resonates with a depth of mutual understanding.

Similarly in conversations, what is not said is often as significant and relevant as what is spoken. This rich space is important in other forms of expression. In music; the beat is created as much by the bang on the drum as the pause between. And this afternoon, helping my daughter with her homework, I remind her to leave a space between each word, otherwise sliding each word into the next leaves an incomprehensible jumble of letters. And in life, craving those moments of space that some people find in yoga, exercise, reading, meditating, on the beach or even sleeping! Moments of peace that contrast with the full moments of demanding life.

In art, the space is equally as important as the subject. In the most basic understanding of composition it is important to remember the dynamism of space. Paintings without much space create a more intense, claustrophobic feel. Paintings with a smear of landscape at the base of a vast skyscape may feel full of wild wind.

I like to look at spaces and imagine them solid. I look at the horizon and imagine the sky a heavy red and the trees, spaces of light and air.

An exercise I have given to students of all ages is to paint the space. Rather than paint the scene, they concentrate only on the blocks of emptiness and fill that space with paint, effectively creating a negative picture. By doing this, it is instantly obvious the weight of that space. It also allows a new understanding of ‘blind spots’ in habitual perception. So often we rarely truly ‘see’. Our sight, so conditioned to only decode superficial information and effectively ignore the ‘spaces’ and other details.

By recognizing the weight of space, it becomes immediately as significant as any other element in a piece of art.

Recently in New York visiting the
M.O.M.A. with two good friends, one a Barrister, the other an IT manager, we stood in front of Yves Kleins (1928-62), “BlueMonochrome” (1961). The canvas is filled with only one shade of blue. It was another ‘that’s not art’ moment. And though it was fun to tease and laugh about the apparent ridiculousness of a canvas filled with empty blue, there is so much truth held in that emptiness. To stand in front of it is mesmerizing. The blue pulses and vibrates out of the canvas yet pulls you in. To enjoy this piece it is necessary to stop. Stop and be in a space where the blue is allowed to envelop senses, memories, feelings and self. In that moment it is understood that this empty blue is full.

Space is obviously also important with sculptures. Considering the delicate balance and relationship of space and form is apparent in the sublime works of
Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975). Traditionally paintings have a hidden composition. Artists use this to draw the eye of the viewer from one point to the next, to create a complete and satisfying visual shape - usually a triangle. In sculpture, the eye is more obviously contained by the form. Barbara Hepworth’s sculptures roll the eye in and through over and around. Her work is an eloquent observation and investigation of space. How space condenses when bound by a form or opens when a relationship is created between objects. She plays with our perception of space and depth beyond the solid shape by introducing wire elements that confuse the eye to discover either space or form, being neither and both at the same time.

The spaces that are held tightly in a form reveal the paradox of space/light and weight. Those tightly held and interrupted spaces become as dense as the wood surrounding it.

Artists like Hepworth and Klein express the beautiful duality of space and expose intrinsic truths often hidden in paradox, much as I hope the space and the words in my email reveal more than just words and maybe an essential truth will be revealed in a moment of unwritten hyperbole!

Comments? Questions? Susan can be contacted at sozmac@yahoo.com

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