Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Posted by Peg in South Carolina

Motif 1pspimage

Figure and ground is an art concept I have known about for a long time. Taking a photo of a person standing in front of a large shrub, for example, will result in the figure of the person, which stands out, and the ground of the shrub, which recedes into the background.

For most of us, the figure is what matters. The ground matters only insofar as it makes the figure prominent. Artists, however, realize the importance of the ground in its own right.

In studying art, most of us have been encouraged to see the shape of the ground as a positive shape, rather than a shape having been cut out by the figure. That has always been hard for me to do. It has always gone against how I have learned to see.

But as I was weaving the first motif I began to see the ground and how it was shaped as perhaps even more important than the figure. The figure, of course, is the gold pattern blocks, the ground is all the red on which it lies.

But, the gold pattern blocks really do not lie on that red ground. They are surrounded by the red ground. And I see their shapes as every bit as important as the gold figure. In fact, I can easily switch back and forth between viewing gold as figure and red as ground, on the one hand, and red as figure and gold as ground on the other hand.

Isolating the gold figure blocks, the figure (now individual gold lines)is actually almost enmeshed in the ground. As I have tried to design it, my hope is that those blocks read as a whole rather than the alternation of red lines and gold lines. And still, that is exactly what happens.

So even in weaving, the eye shifts in how it sees things.

Taking the red areas as figure rather than ground, it is difficult to see in those areas any clear figure/ground distinction. Everything is constantly changing because I am throwing two different warps in so many different ways. There is a pattern, so it is not really a jumble. There is only a vague sense of pattern because it is not readily identifiable.

I realize, too, that what I am trying to do with the blue shadowing is to integrate the design section (another figure, the eye again changing how it sees things) into the ground area, the ground area from this perspective being the group of dark red blocks which surround the figure or design area.

As I weave, I am learning.


Related Post: Crackle Shawl: The Motifs

Figure and Ground” was written by Margaret Carpenter for Talking about Weaving and was originally posted on May 20, 2009. ©2009 Margaret Carpenter aka Peg in South Carolina

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