"When we are looking intently, identification is a secondary goal, for we are interested, curious to discover all we can about the object. We also experience what was described in the previous chapters the simultaneous operation of the imagination. The eye physically takes in all it can see, while the imagination speculates on unseen aspects of the object."
This is the final chapter of Graham Collier's Form, Space & Vision, published by Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, in 1963.
These aspects can’t be seen from one particular viewing position, but which we know about through having seen them on other occasions from a different position (the other side of the object, for example.) Secondly, there are those that cannot be seen from an external viewing position: the hidden, internal aspects of the object. We must dissect the object in order to project images of these aspects. In the case of some objects, we can actually physically dissect them and reveal their internal prospect, and this view can later, when we look at the exterior of the object, be conjured up by the mind’s eye. Take a tomato, for instance. Externally, it is round and red. But if you slice up enough tomatoes, you will become so familiar with its inside sectional appearance that you will never see a tomato without also visualizing its crosses section. Many forms and objects cannot be easily dissected. Our imagination has to act like a surgeon’s knife and cut through the object to reveal those hidden places of which we have no sensory knowledge.
This kind of X-ray approach, which leads inevitably to the fragmentation f the object, has been one of the major interests of modern painting during this century. The early cubist style of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in 1908-1909 imposed the artist’s structural geometry on the natural form of the object. When this structural fragmentation was allied to a paint surface of arbitrary tonal planes, the breakdown of the natural form was complete. Eventually, paintings were built up by such “fragmented masonry” without the painter having recourse to any visual subject matter. The form was developed imaginatively, to take on its own life, as in Vision III.
Later phases of cubism introduced the practice of depicting not only what can be seen of an object, but also what is known about the object, all in one painting. This, of course, produced many difficulties for the viewer, who had been conditioned for so many centuries to an art concerned only with the appearance of things seen from one viewpoint. Simultaneous projection in art, the cubist invention of combining differing aspects of the figure or object in the same composition, thus projecting them simultaneously, produced paintings of the head, for example, with a profile superimposed over a full face. Picasso’s “Violin & Grapes” treats the subject matter in the same way. The painter shows us the full face and the profile of the instrument, together with several other aspects of the object. Such an imaginative break-up of the forms will obviously reveal more about the subject than the traditional single-viewpoint representation. It is like getting several paintings for the price of one!
The following experiment will introduce you to the many differing aspects of apparently simple objects. It primary purpose is to initiate the habit of looking with intent, to instill an awareness of the unseen, to take you once more to the brink of nonobjective art by yet another path. The work will be carried out in three parts. First, through a series of experimental drawings you will imaginatively reveal different exposures of three simple geometric figures. At some stage, a symbol of the object should emerge. Then will follow a series of internal “aspect drawings” made after physically cutting into a fruit. Finally, you will be asked to translate one series of drawings into a composite pictorial design, by projecting simultaneously all the discovered exposures of the object.
Make a cone, a cylinder and a solid triangle of still paper. They do not need to be very accurate or very large—about 15cm (6”) high is large enough to serve as models which can be imaginatively broken down through drawing. Made from paper, they are, of course, hollow; the model is a defined region of space rather than a solid form. Volume has this dual role as pointed out in Form II.
In this experiment, the two roles of volume are interchangeable. There is no need to make a base for these figures, since you will need to pick them up and look inside. The first step is to make a series of small drawings of each figure. First, make a straightforward drawing of the model as it appears at the normal eye level. Place this in the top left corner of the sheet of paper, then produce a series of 5cm (2”) squares to the right side of it and beneath in orderly rows. You may need between ten to twenty squares.
The goal is to draw as many different aspects of the paper model as you possibly can. These responses are achieved by viewing the object from many different positions, and then drawing each new observation. The drawings that follow include not just what you see but what your eye and imagination together can reveal. Try to visualize the object cut through and opened out. Imaginative fragmentation of the model is not easy, particularly if the fragment when drawn is to retain its identity as part of a cone, cylinder or solid triangle. Some of the drawings can be taken as aspects of a solid figure; others are regions of space, partly designed by a shell—such is the imaginative interchangeability between solid form and defined space, to which we previously referred in Form II. Again, some of these drawings become so simple as linear symbols of the object that they are almost a form of ‘writing.’
When you have exhausted the aspect possibilities of all three objects, select one drawing from each series which in your opinion is the simplest in terms of drawing, yet also has the strongest power to suggest the like ness or the idea of the original model. This can be termed a symbol of the object. A visual symbol must possess strong communicative power; therefore, it must be simple, and it must be abstracted from the original object. All the aspects you have made of the three objects are also abstractions of the objects. It follows from this that such an abstraction can possess symbolic power.
The second part of this experiment consists of making drawings similar to those just completed. But now, instead of imaginativelycutting through the object, we shall actually cut it with a knife. Use some kind of fruit, such as a lemon or a tomato. This series of drawing should be set out on a single sheet of paper exactly like the others, with a simple drawing of the whole fruit made in the top left-hand corner. Proceed to cut up the model, making a drawing of each new aspect as it is revealed through the surgical operation. You will no doubt find this series of drawings easier to make, for now your imagination is reinforced by a physical reality that can be seen and handled. These aspects of lemon are also abstractions of lemon, and at least one drawing could be used as a symbol of lemon.
The final work of this section touches on the part of pictorial quality that has been defined as an ‘expressive and significant use of shapes.’ Select one of the sheets of drawings that you have just made, either the aspects of the cone, cylinder, solid triangle, or fruit. Take all aspect drawings of this one particular model and organize them into one pictorial design. You may fit as many as twelve or fifteen aspects into some kind of pictorial organization within a square or rectangular area. A convenient size for the area would be approximately 20cm2.
Conclusions: If new and unfamiliar exposures of an object are revealed when we look with intent, the act of drawing aids such visual, imaginative exploration and at the same time, fixes and makes permanent the image of the new aspect. Without the drawing, no permanent visual sign or symbol of the discovery remains, either to provide a graphic image for any imaginative development or to elicit a direct response.
Could these pictorial designs have been achieved as effectively by a deliberate drawing of a ‘set’ subject, say a pictorial presentation of lemons or triangles? Composition involves simply the manipulation of space and a structural significance given to form. They go beyond a representation of external appearances to show the greater reality of the object’s total nature.
Art is an attitude to life and the things of life; it is an awareness of the structural and organic rhythms of the universe, visually expressed. It is a commitment to reveal (from a position of inquiry and personal attitude) rather than to imitate.
Free drawing to find a symbol
The quality of a drawing depends on how intently the artist has looked at things, and how rich his imagination has been in creating images that carry him beyond mere visual reality or appearances.
Pick an object and reduce it to a symbol through drawing. The symbol was then to be used freely and imaginatively as the motif for the cutting of a linoleum block.
To simplify the first drawing was the next task. Each sketch was a graphic image in its own right, and each suggested the degree of simplification required to produce the next drawing. The final drawing produced a concrete image to which nothing could be added or subtracted without detriment to the symbol that had emerged.