Space Between Paintings
I enjoy flipping through Gaston Bachelard’s 1958 book The Poetics of Space from time to time to indulge in some random but profound passage that will send me into a tizzy before replacing it on its shelf in a mystified state about the word phenomenological or some such business. I always keep two copies of this book around. The copy from school with various markings of indecipherable meaning and a copy that I am always prepared to give away.
Bachelard discussed space in all its psychodrama and gave explanations of lasting significance. One such example, to paraphrase:
Don’t we recall childhood cellar stairs from the top looking down?
Bachelardian cellar space is the one of interest to poets and painters to be sure. But if you are an architect you might also want to learn how to think this way. The cellar is a place of specific thoughts and dreams. Certain care must be taken when we go there. The Poetics of Space delves into the causes and effects that space(s), these invisible things of a varied geometrical shape, have on us as humans. And since reading this book many years ago I often consider how spaces can become charged by circumstance, memory, mood or location.
Many years ago I had a conversation with the painter Dana Frankfort about my experience concerning the space between two paintings hung on opposite walls. One painting was a large black and white Stuart Davis with the word CHAMPION in it, taken from a matchbook advertisement for spark plugs. The opposite painting was called “Tribute” by Josh Marsh and it was an homage to the Davis, but rendered entirely in mustard yellows and dark browns. It was luscious and a bit enigmatic where the Davis was elementary and cold. They were both hanging in my gallery in Brooklyn.
Just prior to the opening of that first show in a new space, after all of the preparing and installing and fussing, the gallery was quiet and empty, in my memory. I stood between the two paintings and shuffled back and forth, sideways, in the twenty feet of space between them, until I found the point where Josh’s smaller painting appeared to be the same size as the Davis that it was based upon.
At this “midpoint”, the size of the Davis was diminished by distance more so than the smaller painting, since I ended up being closer to Josh’s to create the equilibrium. This only worked in the eye’s eye, not in the mind’s eye, since I knew one was physically larger. It was pre-iPhone too. Of course only one work could be seen at a time so it was necessary to hold the image of one inside while turning to look at the other. This to me was a significant exercise and that was the way that I became aware of the space between paintings.
Since then artworks are more alive. I think about what they might be thinking about. I wonder about their feelings. The light must play such an important role in their lives, maybe that and space is all they’ve even got. Each other too, they also have each other.