Friday, July 10, 2009

Eureka moment - Figure/Ground

Interesting how Eureka moments pop up quite unexpectedly! I was browsing Robert Motherwells work "Premonition Open, with Flesh over Gray" in the Bernard Jacobsons Gallery, Cork Street, London the other day.

I am vaguly familiar with Motherwell from an essay I wrote about Pollock and Abstract Expressionism. I have to confess I had dismissed his work as boringly repetitive. When you have seen three black lines in a variety of configurations painted on a coloured background the tenth version becomes repetitive if not boring! However I had only ever seen his work in books and on the internet and a bit like recorded music it is no substitute for the live performance.

Casually if not disinterestedly perusing Motherwells large canvases on the walls of said gallery I was suddenly aware of the subtly of these black painted lines. I could hear the monaural Yorkshire tones of Norman Travis ringing in my ears, preaching the theory of the figure ground relationship. There it was in graphic reality, Motherwells subtle smudges of background colour across the ubiquitous black lines immediately presents the dilemma, which came first the blackline or the smudge of orange? Which was figure, which was ground?

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