Walking this morning in brilliant sunshine in a Mediterranean pine forest was an exercise in delight. The amazingly intense blue sky above was the perfect foil for a myriad dancing greys of tree trunks that twisted and swayed in graceful coexistence. Beneath, the grey-green sheen of resinous shrubs seemed to reflect the light back upwards to the pines and complete the harmony with the bright green crowns of pine needles. Beneath, luminous pink and white touches of rock roses (cistus) were punctuated by the magenta spears of tiny wild gladioli.
As I walked, it was hard to decide whether to focus on the sun-dappled tree trunks, with their twists and turns, or the “negative” space between them, so full of other interest and beauty.
It is the same conundrum that interests me so often when I am drawing or painting – which shapes are the more dominant? Ideally, the two – negative and positive – should work together for a successful outcome. Nonetheless, usually, one starts with emphasis on one or the other, I find.
I remembered an interesting statement that artist Kevin T. Kelly made in the September 2015 Artist’s Magazine: “The space between the words, the silence in the talking - what the Taoists refer to as nothingness, that space or instance that proceeds thought, yet gives birth to everything.”
I think that sudden recognition of an unusual juxtaposition of space or silence with their surroundings is often what jolts me into alertness that there is something interesting to pursue, to try to draw or create. Even such a humble thing as a stone, that I might pick up along a pathway because it calls out to me, can be the genesis of that space or instance about which Kevin Kelly talks. Or, as another example, walking into the Fundación Pilar y Joan Miró in Palma de Mallorca, I look up to admire the alabaster windows/walls. There, suddenly, the negative and positive shapes in one part set off my radar and I pause to study them more closely. The ultimate result is another silverpoint drawing.
Very frequently, however, there is another aspect to this negative-positive duality, whether of the pine trees in which I delighted this morning or any other scene to which an artist might be responding. It is a fleeting reaction in many instances. Almost as if one’s eyes focus and then refuse to focus again in the same way. You somehow need to train yourself to remember that initial perception; otherwise, the moment vanishes.
Again, the Taoist idea of emptying one’s mind so that it has no preconceptions, no rigid plans nor ideas, allows for more flexibility and spontaneity. It also means that a relaxed and peaceful person can remember more clearly that moment of interest, that “space or instance that proceeds thought, yet gives birth to everything.” In other words, a good way to start creating a work of art.