More About Space

Depiction of personal space

So much has been written about the philosophy of space, that I can’t possibly summarize the different positions in one or even a dozen postings. However, I am in the process of combing the philosophic, artistic and scientific literature to arrive at my own understanding of (physical and inner) space and how I can depict it in a personal way.

Thus far, I have only touched the surface in my study of artists such as Paul Cézanne, Paul Klee and Hans Hofmann. Cézanne sought to use fundamental forms (planes, cylinders, cones) and colors to construct his view of nature. Klee used his ideas of the origins of nature as the basis for the origins of his artistic works. Hofmann’s approach was to use contrasting color and geometric pictorial elements combined with his ‘inner vision’, to depict space.


My first serious foray into art was my long term photography project to depict, or rather, discover more about my relationship with my older brother who is autistic, low functioning and nonverbal. My initial approach to the project was as a photographer: I was concerned about timing, filling the frame of the camera and adjusting optical factors so that I could capture the essence of a moment; and enabling the viewer to get a sense of my experience at the instant I clicked the shutter.

Looking back on the early days of the project, I was probably portraying the interpersonal space between us. However, I was using my photography in the same way that a radiologist uses a diagnostic X-ray: to see if I could discover something, anything about my brother and myself that I missed in real space-time.

Non-physical space

Photography is not always about physical space. Those of you who know the photography of Diane Arbus might be struck by her in-your-face, stark portrayal of her subjects, most of whom were unusual. When I first became aware of her work, I thought she was exploitive. However, according to Larry Fink, art photographer, who taught a workshop I attended, Arbus’s photographs were an honest record of how she saw the world. This is the mark of a fine artist: to bring the inner world out for all to see; to ‘make visible’ the phrase that Paul Klee used to describe the responsibility of the artist.

Another photographer whose work is poignant and moving is August Sander. His environmental portraits of working people in pre-World War II Germany, brought out his view of the diversity of the German people. It is likely that this is the very reason that his work was restricted by the fascists as they came to power.

How should I proceed?

I took photography as far as I could to discover more about my brother and his world. I am headed in the right direction by trying to learn the basics of portraying space using the medium of painting. Perhaps I need to develop a little bit of Cézanne’s acuity in resolving physical space into ideal colors and form; Klee’s power to harness the energy of the point and line; and Hofmann’s skill in combining inner vision with ‘push pull’-ing contrasting planar elements and colors.

The long and short of it is to keep all the above elements in mind while making use of my own inner vision.

Today’s experiment:

Today’s sketch is just a doodle. There is very little contrast among the pictorial elements (not much ‘push pull’). The pictorial elements are not strictly Hofmannesque, as I understand them. After I drew the basic forms, and based on my writing (above), I constructed a little narrative that informed the finishing touches on my doodle (which was a bit surprising).

Watercolor Sketch - Abstract Doodle in Red

4″x6″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

2 thoughts on “More About Space

  1. I really enjoyed this post – it was interesting to hear your reflections back on your photography project and the links with your current work. Your narrative doodle is interesting. The first thing I saw was the key hole. Then the doors (three of them). I thought of the ‘doors of perception’ (Aldous Huxley I think then, later, Jim Morrison). You know where the key to the door is (there is an arrow confirming this) but you don’t know which door to choose from the three possible? It is embedded in one door but there are two others. But then I stopped seeing three doors and saw a latch (the way the purple and yellow fit together), which is another way of opening a door. I suppose seeing the latch is about the push-pull ideas you’ve been exploring? Initially I saw flat squares and rectangles, but after a while they became embedded. Forgive me for trying to make meaning from your doodle! Thank you, as ever… Liz

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