The Space Between
To genuinely experience a space is intensely intimate. It can happen alone or with others, but it always comes from within you. Throughout this work I aim to create a sense of specificity, to evoke the powerful feeling of being immersed in a space. I am interested in dynamics, what can and can’t be seen, such as seemingly mundane aspects of everyday life, one light shining through the square of a window frame or the corner of a plant casting shadow on glass. The work exists in the in-between, the moments when your eyes adjust to the light. The mysterious quality of night and the unknown. It asks viewers how they feel when encompassed by a dark space. The darkness of night can be both uneasy and serene. It affects everyone differently. There is a stillness that comes with the dark, to be in a space alone, the feeling of quiet night. My work challenges the way we view space, asking the viewer to stop and investigate further as place is revealed.
Reading The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard has greatly influenced my studio practice. The way he discusses the intimacy and nuance of space speaks deeply to the meaning of my work. He talks poetically and also analytically, but often not in a linear way. He addresses how we as individuals have innate connections to the spaces that we inhabit, especially the home. The idea of architecture and space playing a significant role in our everyday lives is one that I hope to capture throughout my work. He states that “The house is one of the greatest powers of integration for the thoughts, memories, and dreams of mankind. The binding principle in this integration is the daydream. Past, present, and future give the house different dynamisms, which often interfere, at times opposing, at others, stimulating one another” (6). I feel a powerful presence when I experience spaces, both interior and exterior, known and unknown. Conveying how these spaces carry meaning and depth is what I strive to show visually through my work.
In addition to Bachelard, the work of photographer Gregory Crewdson is very important to this body of work. Through meticulously staged photographs of the American suburban landscape, Crewdson illustrates powerful narratives. Crewdson speaks of the power of the still image as “a story that is forever frozen in between moments, before and after, and always left as a kind of unresolved question”. His use of natural and artificial lighting within dark spaces resonates for me within my work. The photographs have the ability to capture a moment. Crewdson explores ideas of isolation, relationships, and the interactions we have with the spaces we inhabit. He also addresses the architectural relationship between interior and exterior, through both fantasy and natural elements.
Within Crewdson’s work, there is an importance of place, space, and the interactions people have with them. The spaces depicted are often lonely, isolated, and mysterious. Architecture acts as a framework for the feeling of looking in and out. Using the transparent window as a tool, the viewer exists in the in-between. We are a part of these changing spaces simultaneously. Crewdson’s work prompts contemplation, with striking compositions of constructed imagery. The changing source of light affects the viewer; viewers have different responses to light from within than light reflected.
The painter Edward Hopper also explores human interaction with space and architecture, capturing place through the physicality of paint, rendering passages of light and dark that create structure and contrast. These moments are still, quiet, and isolated. The work shows both inside and outside, and the balance with the in-between threshold. There is a structural quality, with division of shape through areas of tone and value. This is further emphasized through the use of contrast in light and dark sources, the juxtaposition of an artificial porch light against the dark depth of night. Throughout his paintings there is an overwhelming sense that space has meaning, emotion, and mystery.
In my own body of work, the role of materials is intrinsically important. Oil on panel creates structure and presence, while graphite and charcoal read as subtle and ephemeral. I have found that painting with oil on panel most successfully captures the concept of the work. It allows me to build passages of color through the use of mediums and thin transparent layering. Through this process, a sense of internal light emerges from the work. It allows the viewer to enter into the space through the depths of light and dark within the subtle differences in tone and value.
Drawing is also key to my artistic practice, I am drawing with paint. I strive to push the difference between line and edge, challenging the way areas of material meet up against each other to create structural or organic space. Working additively and reductively, I am able to realize a subtle and delicate space. The material allows for a broad range of mark-making. Isolated and concentrated marks lead to building and abstracting form. They force the viewer to spend time with the work, looking to distinguish detail.
I find that imagery is important with both drawing and painting. The work is also influenced by both found photographs and my own, as well as film stills, all in which imagery plays a significant role. I use photography as documentation and reference. I pay attention to the differences between being in an actual physical space, experiencing a photograph of that place, and then finally creating, and experiencing that space through a form of rendered imagery such as painting. I am interested in seeing how our perception changes. In my paintings, image, material, and concept all need to coexist harmoniously. There is a constant challenge to find balance. I want to transport the viewer into a world, to give insight through image, but also leave room for the viewer to add personal thoughts, memories, and associations. Images come with history of their own. As the maker, my goal is to find a way to acknowledge this but also create with a clear and personal voice, thereby driving the direction of the viewer’s experience.
My work is influenced by the Bauhaus, Scandinavian design, and American Mid-century modern architecture. The concepts of the Bauhaus can be characterized by geometric, clean, modern design, as well as the ideals of the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, and gesamkunstwerk, the “all-embracing” art form. This is especially evident in Haus am Horn, a residential house built for Bauhaus Dessau in 1923. The structure is flat, horizontal, simple and modern, with small square windows. It brings attention to light, design elements, and openness. These ideals are also carried out by architects such as Richard Neutra in the Kaufmann House, Pierre Koenig in the Stahl House, and Louis Kahn in the Margaret Esherick House, to name a few.
Similar to the Bauhaus, Scandinavian design is depicted by its functionality, simplicity and minimalism. Writing for Houzz, Rebecca Gross states that “The subtle beauty of Scandinavian architecture and design is in its simplicity. There is nothing superfluous, unnecessary, or useless. It is a simple composition with clean lines, basic shapes, and solid colors.” Beginning in the 1950s, this design movement spread across the five Nordic countries. Importance is also placed on the architecture’s integration with nature. Architect Alvar Aalto accomplishes this in Villa Mairea in Finland. The modernist house incorporates nature into the interior and exterior with the use of finished wood and natural materials. Contrastingly, large, full length windows allow for natural light and a close connection between the natural environment and the constructed architecture. How the architectural spaces we inhabit situate themselves into our natural landscape is an idea that is explored and questioned throughout my paintings in this body of work.
Throughout this work I want viewers to be able to imagine themselves traveling through a cohesive space, looking from a distance, or confronting close detail. I hope to create work that is not stagnant, but rather changes as you move physically around. The work should speak differently when looked at from far away as well as add insight into process from an intimate distance. I see the viewer as an active participant in each piece. When viewing a painting from a distance, the eye focuses on imagery as a whole. In contrast, when experiencing the work up close, abstracted forms edge up against each other to provide structure, luminosity, and depth.
The strength in viewing the work from varying distances is especially evident in my painting Moonshadow. The work is 24 x 30 inches and oil on panel. A simple, modern house is illuminated and emerging from the dark black/ blue expanse. The house is horizontal in orientation and stretches within inches of each side of the panel. Sitting in the bottom half of the composition, the house is simultaneously suspended and grounded within the landscape. A dark passage of depth and shadow exists directly under the front outside wall of the house. Dropping off, the house floats in space before leveling out into solid structure. Through the use of transparent layers, tone and value are established. Under the gable roof of the house, two wide, glass doors are depicted. The left door is open, revealing the darkness of the interior. However, the viewer cannot distinguish what is beyond. Moving to the right, small and horizontal windows are shown, through transparent, linear brushstrokes. A geometric shadow passes over the house, adding depth and organization. Loose and atmospheric marks defining the surrounding landscape contrast with the geometric form of the house.
Watching films by Alfred Hitchcock, such as Rear Window and North by Northwest, has greatly influenced this body of work. In these films, there are feelings of mystery, human connection, and curiosity. Hitchcock creates compelling narratives that ask both the characters and viewers to question their surroundings and experiences. The films utilize contrasting light and dark sources in arresting color palettes as well as striking cinematic compositions. I am most interested in focusing on the role that architecture, landscape, and the home plays in each film. For example, the modern Mid-century house shown at night in one of the final scenes in North by Northwest. The house, constructed from geometric panels of glass, wood and stone stands with presence embedded in a hill near Mt. Rushmore. Scenes depict main characters inside the house, shot from the darkness of the outside night. Hitchcock combines the dark exterior of the house with the illuminated glass walls. Similarly, Rear Window is an example of a film with remarkable compositions, made especially impressive by the singular, sustained viewpoint throughout the film. A shot of the murder suspect’s window during the night is simple, singular, and high in contrast yet eerily quiet. The scene depicts a dark window in a New York City apartment building, with the only light coming from a cigarette slowing burning in and out. Without actually seeing, the viewer is tense and curious as to who this figure is and how he is situated within his architectural environment.
There is a strong sense of the unknown throughout my work. It is devoid of human presence, with only glimpses into life through small details. The viewer acts as the individual experiencing this mysterious and unidentified space. I am interested in the freezing of a moment; it is important that my work evokes a stillness. The lack of human presence compels the viewer to look deeper. Unassuming modern houses provoke thought without connection to specific narratives. The work examines what this solitude experience is like: atmospheric, suspended and isolated. The rendered spaces suggest emotion within themselves, creating a powerful response. This idea is apparent in the work Night House, also 24 x 30 inches and oil on panel. In this piece, contrast is heightened in various ways, in areas of light and dark, as well as materially. Within the gentile hill of the landscape, a modern, modest house sits low. Simple, long, and horizontal, with a small dark door and thin horizontal windows, rendered in transparent and washy passages of blue/grey paint. This contrasts starkly with the thick and solid blue/black dark expansive background. The house, with internal light and linear shadows, occupies only a small portion of the vertical painting. The remainder is the void of dark night, flattening in space and addressing the materiality and textural quality of paint.
I connect very strongly to how architecture fits into our landscape, and the connections we have with the spaces we experience. This work describes the feeling of immersion in space, focusing on specificity of night. Night is quiet, calm, intense and simultaneously serene. It is mysterious, indefinite, and contemplative. One can continue endlessly into the depth of night, letting oneself travel into the void of darkness. This contrasts with the halting flattening planes of architecture realized and built in space.
I am interested in exploring the experience of walking around a house, studying the passing shadows and abstracted forms, encapsulated by darkness and illuminated at the same time. Not only do I want my work to capture the expansive quality of space, but also its mundane details. My painting, Night Plant Life, showing a single window frame illuminated with light and the dark silhouette of organic plant forms in front, speaks to the ideas of interior and exterior, and what lies on each side of the home. Here, dark and light vibrate against one another in balance. While this work still embodies contrast, it is overall light. The lightness reinforces the intimate detail of space, allowing the viewer to enter into the space without being stopped by forceful darkness. Emphasis is placed on composition, positive and negative space, and the silhouetting of shape. The plant is rendered in an expressive and gestural manner, with quick, loose marks. The quality of these marks highlights the strong bright light emerging from the window frame.
Anthony McCall’s work Line Describing a Cone was installed at the Whitney Museum of American Art (as part of the exhibition Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905–2016) and also discusses the strength of light. In a way that speaks to the intension of my own work, the museum states that this work was “The first film to occupy a three dimensional presence in space. The audience stands in a darkened art gallery, rather than a cinema auditorium, watching the film by looking at the light beam as it emanates from the projector…. The film invites us to look into the hollow cone, to lie under it, stand inside it, or walk through it, disappearing into its volume like mist, only to reappear on the other side.” Experiencing this film in person and interacting with it as it changed and progressed influenced this body of my work. As you enter the installation, the pitch dark shocks ones’ senses. Immediately, you become more aware. As your eyes adjust to the light, you are able to experience space in a new way, to focus on the nuances.
In summary, in my body of work, I strive to create an intimate space that explores the intersection of landscape and architecture. I hope to articulate the in-between moments, and the space between the individual and the environment, through the lens of the powerful stillness of night. I hope that my depiction of place through architecture, landscape, and abstracted forms creates an environment that allows the viewer to experience space in a new way, one that facilitates abandonment as well as thought.
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