Posts Tagged ‘background-foreground’


The clarity of what’s being depicted here may at first glance be satisfying. What have we here?  Answer: the basic shapes of two-dimensional geometry.  Square, circle, rectangle and triangle.  What a relief, you don’t have to work out some perceptual subtlety of modern art.

Well, actually you do.  It’s true, you’re seeing those four geometrical shapes.  But they are not on top, they are not resting on a surface, as they would be if the painting were about them.  What’s actually on top is the surface around them.  We see the square-circle-rectangle-triangle as the result of an act of omission.  The painter just didn’t get to those bits and let the “background” show through.  Just so happens, his negligence was overly careful.  You can verify this by looking at the “frame” that is the “background”—that splattered surface—and then it’s clear that the geometrical shapes floating in the middle are “nothing” but part of that “background.”

This foreground-background game engages the mind without ever getting boring.  You think you’re looking at the figure (foreground) and it turns out you’re actually looking at the ground (background) and you realize that they exist at the same time but your mind can’t focus on them simultaneously.  You get this flickering sensation in the brain, like a strobe light, and if you stay with it, you’ll get a buzz.

The artist, Harold Bauer, assures you that this is his game, by creating additional frames—frames within frames.  Just look at the edges of the painting. Where does this framing business end?  Seems to go on and on.  A mind game.


In a later version of this process, the artist takes us into deeper uncertainties.  Notice how in this painting the shapes are not easily named.  No clear square, circle, rectangle and triangle here. The edges between foreground and background get fuzzy and torn looking.  The artist is working with the same aesthetic ideas as in the earlier painting, but here the game is richer, more engaging.

Both paintings were shown at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago this spring.


All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.





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