Spaces Between Things

Politicians and civic leaders tell us that the worth of a city can be measured by its size, or by the number of its museums, banks, concert halls and stadiums, or by the height of its buildings, or by the net wealth of its inhabitants. The list goes on. All such measures are insufficient, say the wise ones. Instead, an equally important one is this: how many parks does a city have?

Wise, I’m not, but I agree with the question, especially in relation to Spaces.

The most obvious importance of parks for city-dwellers is that parks give us spaces to escape from cement, traffic, glass, noise and asphalt. In parks we can embrace Nature: the green and growing worlds that are often leached out of urban life. A walk in a park can be worth a dozen visits to a therapist. Parks are usually quiet places away from the pressures of the city, tranquil spaces where we can relax, reflect, even read a book, like the lady in the sketches.

Sketches for An Afternoon in June Pencil and ink- 8.5 x 11 inches

How often do people think about space at all? For most of us, space is something empty, so space is not real, not a “thing.” We look at the doughnut, not the hole; we don’t read between the lines. However, for artists, space is a presence that we live with–and within–always. For musicians, it’s space between beats and notes; for poets it’s space between words. Architects and sculptors create their works in the three- (or four-) dimensional space we live in. Painters have a special relationship with space because we have to translate the experience of three-dimensional space into the flat, two-dimensional space of paper or canvas.

As far as I know, the English language, doesn’t have a word for the space between things. But German does: the word is Zwischenraum, It’s a word I treasure because it makes space palpable, a tangible presence, a “thing” inseparable from every thing.

One Summer Afternoon Watercolor sketch – 8 x 10 inches

Is there a word in any language, I wonder, that denotes emotional spaces? Who is the woman in the blue skirt, red blouse and yellow hat? She could be the artist’s younger sister, or perhaps a friend. Maybe she does not exist at all; the artist needed a figure in the sketch, so she’s an invention. What if the artist has known and loved her for many years, yet she still remains a mystery? Perhaps she’s simply a stranger who will close her book and walk into the park, never to be seen again. The list goes on. Like the lifting of a veil, the park opens spaces in our minds for us to imagine what could be…

3 thoughts to “Spaces Between Things”

  1. Thank you, Mike, for the journey across your drawing spaces and inquiring mind. Both fill me with wonder.

  2. Captain Kirk original Star Trek TV series…Space the final frontier,
    Space fills a void,
    Star Wars had a Droid.
    Preparation H is supposed to sooth hemorrhoids.
    Coronavirus is something to avoid,
    Can space be annoyed?

  3. Such a thoughtful post about not just a painting but about painting itself, and consequentially, about life. You probably don’t need this reminder. But the followers of your blog might appreciate it. I recall it mostly because a good 45 years after I first read it, I am still affected by the concept and the reality of the spaces in between. I am referring to a response you once gave to the question, “What are your paintings about?” Your response:

    “You’ve probably watched a flock of birds flying in formation. Notice how the formation circles and swoops and moves in the sky. There are many individual birds, but in flight together they comprise a single larger organism, the flock. Watch a while longer. Look at the birds as individuals. Then as units of the whole flock. Then shift your concentration from the birds to the spaces between the birds. Can you sense the presence of the force that keeps the formation together?
    “A puddle of water reflecting the sky, a transparent mountain, a ball of fire in the skull – you can look at these images in my paintings as you would look at the birds in the metaphor. Watch a while longer. The paintings are about the spaces in between.”

    Your work over the past 50+ years has certainly evolved, but there are some philosophical and artistic constants, I think, and perhaps this is one of them, the spaces in between. Enigma lurks in those spaces, mystery too, intuition, and the subtlety that keeps the viewer enthralled and coming back for more.

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