Look at a range of artists working today and see how they incorporate positive and negative spaces in their work.

Gary Hume

Gary Hume’s work covers a wide variety of styles. I particularly enjoy those where the negative and positive spaces are not immediately obvious to the eye. In his Blackbird piece the background contains both black and white areas and there is a degree of ambiguity around which represents sky and which represents foliage. His piece entitled ‘Yellow Hair’ at first glance to me looks like a dark haired person turned away towards a yellow background. Alternatively you see that it’s actually a black face surrounded by yellow hair. I guess the title is a bit of a clue! ‘Study in Black’ is really beautiful in its simplicity. I see a woman’s right hip, navel and right elbow as she crosses her arm over her chest but then others may see a whale’s tail and a drop of water.

Christina Troufa

The artist describes the theme of her work as being “about my life, about myself and my beliefs. I explore in my work the self-representation in the looking for my inner self, my self-portrait.” (saatchiart.com)

I think to achieve this, she deliberately assigns a ‘zero value’ to her clothing and equally to the surroundings. I feel that is quite powerful in focusing the viewer’s attention to her face and activities in each scene.

  ‘O Dom’

  ‘Eu Inferior’ 2011

 ‘Negro’ 2017

Ilsa Brittain

Ilsa, I debated for a while about whether it would be appropriate to include your work in this research point, but when I started the course I researched you a bit and was struck by your use of negative space, although I didn’t know the term at the time. I’ve always preferred art with ‘no background’ because of the strength of focus it puts on the subject. I think this is what you did with Pause and Two Eyes, in an exaggerated way. I find the relative tonal values in White Scarf really intriguing. It feels a bit like being in a nightclub when the black-lights come on!

 ‘White Scarf’ 2016
 ‘Pause’
 ‘Two Eyes’ 2014

Kai Althoff

In his 2000 series of untitled watercolours, Althoff has some subjects portrayed vividly and others almost inhabiting the negative space. The tonal values he assigns are really unusual, it makes me wonder what the significance is, for example in the dinner scene it might be a portrait of someone who has left or died.


Graham Little

Little uses neutral negative space and does not strongly delineate it from the positive. In these two pieces he uses sharpness of focus of the features to define the positive space, the effect is quite unsettling.

 Untitled, 2001


Untitled, 2002

Andrea Bowers

Bowers makes strong political statements with her work. To me, her series focusing on participants from various rallies, singled out in a huge empty negative space, emphasises that each voice is individually small, and by inference that together all the participants are strong.

  ‘Fight for $15 March (December 4, 2014)’ (2015)

  ‘For My Transgender Sisters (May Day March, Los Angeles, 2012)’ (2012)  ‘Legalize my Man (May Day March, Los Angeles, 2012)’ (2012)
Reference List

https://www.saatchiart.com/CristinaTroufa, accessed 20/07/17

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