Research Point – Positive and Negative Space

As I have previously written about here negative spaces are the gaps between objects in a still life and they can often provide the interest and drama to a final piece.  One artist mentioned in the Course book is Gary Hume who incorporates negative space dramatically in his work.

Gary Hume is best known for his stylized depictions of everyday objects using high-gloss industrial paint, he works in a simplified, reductive aesthetic, “The edge is the only thing that matters,” he explained of his paintings. “I used to think of the areas of color as tectonic plates meeting, so in the paintings it’s like there are these molten plates that would hit each other and dry. I wanted one of those plates to be higher than the other, and I wanted the hit to be more abrupt.”  It is clear from looking at Hume’s paintings how important this edge of colour and the spaces between the blocks of colour are, as the ‘objects’ are so simplified, the spaces between them seen to have even more emphasis and are seen as equals to the positive spaces.

Other artists use negative space as part of the drawing.  One example I really like is on the cover of a copy of ‘Peter and the Wolf‘ and is an illustration by Phoebe Morris.  It is using negative and positive spaces in a very different way to Hume and the negative space is almost a different positive depending on how you look at the piece, it reminds me of the visual illusions where you see either a rabbit or old woman depending on how you look and the two images constantly flick into view giving the piece some dynamics.

A book my tutor recommended to me in my assignment feedback was ‘Vitamin D – New Perspectives in Drawing’.  I have managed to pick up a copy and I decided to look through, focusing on how artists featured use positive and negative space.  Early on in the book are drawings by Ryoko Aoki and one caught my attention for its dramatic use of negative space ‘Sewing Factory’.  Aoki deliberately leaves the faces and body parts of the women blank and the outlines are created just by the positive shapes around them, this leads the women at work to have an anonymous, soulless quality devoid of any individuality which can be the feeling when working in a mundane factory type job.  The use of the positive and negative space really helps to capture the emotion of the people at work, feeling like they are no more than a part of the factory.

Flicking through, another that strikes me is Memed Erdener, he uses very simple materials and working in monochrome in his works ‘Europe, Europe Hear Our Voice’ (2004) he uses positive and negative spaces to create a silhouette type effect, again keeping the people involved anonymous, like they could be anyone in Turkey.  The black and white provides huge contrast, like they are two sides fighting against each other.

Frances Richardson’s ‘Paradise Lost‘ also caught my attention.  In this piece she uses the negative space to create the illusion that parts of the drawing have been erased. As the rest of the drawing looks like a sketch of a religious icon or stained glass window the erased look makes it look like religion has been wiped out or lost.  A very powerful use of negative space.

Looking through ‘Vitamin D’ has been an inspirational activity, there are so many artists and drawings that I will keep coming back to.  It has also made me want to experiment more in my own work, there is such variety within the book and so many techniques and approaches to try.  Looking specifically at negative space has also been helpful as I don’t think I have considered the powerful nature of them before and have always concentrated on the positive objects instead.  Food for thought indeed!


Burton, J. and Herman, J. (2011). Vitamin D. 1st ed. London [etc.]: Phaidon.