Space: we’re surrounded! Can you feel it?

In other words, here’s another chapter from Graham Collier's Form, Space & Vision, published by Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, in 1963.

SPACE II:  the intuitive organization of space

We’re so accustomed to our three-dimensional world that our eyes are instinctive depth finders.  We have an instinctive or intuitive tendency to organize the placing of objects or marks in empty space, to create a seemingly ‘right’ and organic grouping within the space available; we tend to see relationships between marks or objects on a piece of paper or in space, even though such marks or objects have no direct connection to each other.

The first experiment is intended to illustrate the instinctive tendency to distribute focal points of major and minor interest in space.  Although it is extremely difficult to free the mind of all association and ideas, instinct operates so strongly in our awareness of form and space that it is possible to approach the experiment with an open mind and to allow our sub consciousness a freedom of expression….  Our knowledge of life is built up through both our intuition and our intellect….  They make it possible for us to make different statements about the same thing.

Experiment 1:  on a sheet of white paper, not less than 20” x 15”, pinned to a drawing board and then erected on a semi-vertical easel at about shoulder height; a regular sable watercolor brush of medium size, the handle of which should be lentfthened by trying it to a piece of dowel stick about 12” long.  The lengthening of the brush handle insures a lack of deliberating in handling the brush and maintains a distance between you and the paper that helps to preserve the detachment necessary for inducing and intuitive response.  Now, standing at least 3 feet from the easel and holding the brush right at the end of the dowel stick, dip the brush into a saucer of black ink and proceed to dab the paper with the brush point.  There must be no attempt to draw with the brush:  the movement should be just a touch with the point before moving back.  Be completely relaxed, both mentally and physically, that mind as complete a blank as you can make it, and the whole body loose as you move rhythmically backwards and forwards making the dabs.  When there is an automatic reaction against continuing to dab, then stop.  The whole thing will occupy only about three or four minutes, so when you are finished, put another piece of paper up and do another; and possibly another one after than, in order to make comparisons between the three pieces of paper.  The first thing you will notice is that some of the dabs were made with a stronger impact than others and have produced dominant and minor marks.  The differences suggest a change in strength of mechanical movements involved in making the marks, some variation in depth perception as the backwards and forwards movement was repeated, and an emotional urge (present in all activity) that varied between positive and neutral degrees of stimulus as the paper space became more crowded with each new brush mark.

The second thing to notice if you allow your eye to wander freely over the papers is that in one or other of them your eye will probably come to rest at one particular region where there is a confluence of dabs, a concentration of dabs around one or two strong dominant marks.  This represents the major focal point.  There may be other minor areas of concentration, or there may be no such point of concentration at all.  If the marks are distributed uniformly over the total are, then the space relationships are equidistant and similar, and the eye rests nowhere.  Such a regular, and therefore dull, arrangement of marks indicates a minimum intuitive ability to organize space interestingly; it also suggests that you were activated by a relatively low emotional charge.

The third and final lesson provides a direct connection with Space I:  the strong black dabs project forward over the weaker gray dabs, thus making areas of depth were the eye penetrates.  The dabs would be blacker and more powerful when the brush was newly charged with ink.  The forcefulness could be related simply to the act of dipping into the ink when a purely mechanical need arose.  Or one may dip in the ink to recharge the brush when he instinctively wishes for a stronger mark.  But a mechanical explanation would not satisfy the question as to why certain marks should be made by flattening the brush onto the paper with some force, whereas others are the result of a delicate touch with the tip.  There is a connection here with the drumbeat.  A mechanical succession of beats with none louder than any other and with a regular period interval between beats is irregular and some beats are louder than others are we affected by the sound…in about 70% of the cases, an intuitive marking of white space with black marks produced a more interesting visual result than a deliberate and conscious attempt to organize the space as a design.

Experiment 2:  we make visual jumps of perception when faced with a scattered and random arrangement of marks I space—how we imaginatively project lines between the marks that appear significant.  These lines seem to connect the marks in such a way that they form shapes on the page.

Take a handful of variously sized pebbles and lay them out ready for easy selection. Completely relaxed, select and place the pebbles quite unselfconsciously anywhere on a large sheet of white drawing paper.  There is no conscious aim behind this, no particular end in view—just an instinctive putting down of the stones in the area at your disposal. As with the first experiment, don’t think about when to stop; just stop when it seems right to stop.  With a pencil, now draw a line around each pebble on the paper and remove the pebbles.  Finally, take a brush and fill in the rings with ink.

What you now have is a collection of such large marks, more positively shaped than the dab markings of the first experiment.

This illustration reveals how well balanced is the organization of large pebbles with smaller ones and how natural and ‘right’ the groupings seem to be.  As you continue to look, you will find that your eye tends to start at the bottom right-hand corner of the paper and move up through each pebble mark, creating an imaginary line as it does so.  Your comprehension of this sheet is first a collection of black marks agreeably dispersed, but then a line is suggested moving through the marks and pulling them, rather like the beads on a string, into a linear organization.  The eye is always ready to be led onwards, particularly when new and interesting changes of direction are suggested by the next jump.  A distribution of arks thus leads the eye and the imagination a merry dance—perhaps from a starting point to a finishing point, or perhaps to no definite end at all but just in a perpetual movement.  The fact remains, however, that our eye is led over surfaces through points of emphasis and points of directional change.  This is true as well for the surface of a canvas or the wall of a building.  The eye also sees the marks in depth by assessing their relative degrees of darkness and size.  Obviously, then, the placing of accents (dominant marks)…affects our perception of the total space involved.  Dominant marks also guide our perception of the linear relationships between units that occupy the space.

Experiment 3:  How to translate experiment 2 into three dimensions… draw in lines to see what movement and form drawing 2 suggests.  Because this is a drawing on paper, this lines moves in only 2 dimensions… take a length of heavy-gauge pliable wire and attempt to reproduce in space the imaginative line passing through the pebble marks…translate this line into a true, three-dimensional environment.

Examine the marks of your pebbles and produce a wire sculpture in which the movement and shaping of the wire are directly inspired by the linear form which the pebble drawing suggests…. do not become too deliberate with the wire.  Start it moving, attempt to interpret the rhythm of the pebble drawing, and be as relaxed and casual then you bend the wire into shape as you were when idly placing the pebbles on the paper.  When you have finished, make some kind of heavy base to support the sculpture and then take a good look at it.

The flat line on the paper has become a line describing volume in the air.  It I quite a transition from a few black marks made without thinking…it serves to indicate what common factors are present in all visual problems…. Pick out the planes or curved surfaces that might exist between the lines of the wire as they move in and out through space.  Take some black or white cotton and by stringing up a cotton ‘wall’ between the wires, delineate such surfaces in one or more parts of the sculpture.

This ability to translate images from one medium to another, from one dimension to another, both in imagination and in practice, is a rewarding accomplishment.  It instills a knowledge of how the process of point-to-line perception works, of how important a part is played in this perception by the element of space, and of how our intuitive powers can produce space-form relationships that are aesthetically significant.


[the next lesson here.]

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