Inside Out

Inside Out

No art is entirely self-contained. No art exists in a vacuum. A picture relates to the wall on which it is hung, and that wall - in turn - relates to the room. We frame pictures in a futile attempt to separate the art from its surroundings. It is a futile attempt because the art is inextricably linked to its environment: the painting affects our perception of the room, and the room affects our perception of the painting. Anyway, I fail to see the motive for framing. Surely the most powerful art is connected to, and refers to, the environment around it? Inside Out emphasizes and reinforces this connectedness by twisting a picture to place the frame on the inside and the picture on the outside. The picture is literally turned inside out.

The Futurists (c. 1915) firmly believed in this connectedness between objects and attempted to reproduce it in their art, calling it "dynamic interpenetration" [1]. They took their lead from the philosopher Henri Bergson:

"Does not the fiction of an isolated object imply an absurdity, since this object borrows its physical properties from the relations which it maintains with all the others, and owes each of its determinations, and consequently its very existence, to the place it occupies in the universe as a whole? Any division of matter into independent bodies with determined outlines is artificial."
- Henri Bergson

In a further attempt to eliminate the barriers between the art and its environment, the edge of Inside Out has been faded until it disappears. It is no longer possible to determine where the picture finishes and the "real world" starts. Look at the centre of the picture and then move your eyes away, across the wall/computer monitor, across the room, and out of the window onto the street outside. Everything is connected, and there is no impermeable barrier (frame) resisting the transition.

The faded edge resembles passage, the painting technique pioneered by Cezanne in which the edges of shapes are not sharply drawn; instead they dissolve into space [2]. I also think the picture resembles the universe after the Big Bang, with galaxies shooting out into space. After all, it is impossible to say where the edge of the universe is positioned.

The image on the left, entitled Inside In reveals what Inside Out looked like before it was inverted. Imagine this image printed on a rubber sheet, the extreme outer corners of the frame then being pulled in towards the middle.

Rather pretensiously, I'm calling the graphic style "neo-Divisionism". Divisionism was much-loved by the Futurists and consisted of broken brushstrokes (dots, basically).


The only other artist I am aware of who makes implicit use of the relationship between his paintings and their surroundings is Ellsworth Kelly [3][4]. Ellsworth Kelly paints large, shaped monochromes with clearly-delineated edges. Hence the form (shape) of the painting becomes the important factor. It is clearly implicit in such a painting that the nature of the wall (onto which the painting is hung) becomes all-important. For instance, one of Kelly's paintings is entitled Painting for a White Wall. Consider the two images of Blue Curve on the right. They are both of the same painting - it is just hung on two different walls.

Ellsworth Kelly makes novel use of the figure/ground relationship. The figure/ground relationship is a common compositional device which consists of an object (the subject of the painting) standing out clearly against a subordinate background. Kelly's paintings do not have a figure and ground in the conventional sense, but the figure/ground relationship is preserved - albeit in an unconventional form. As Kelly has noted: "There is neither figure nor ground in the painting. The painting is the figure and the wall is the ground". The painting becomes the subject, and the wall becomes the background.

Kelly's paintings all have sharply-delineated edges (this style of painting has, in fact, been termed "Hard-edge painting"). Where Inside Out differs is that the edge (boundary?) is faded to the extent that it no longer exists. The figure/ground relationship is broken. The world becomes art.


Further reading:

  1. "Futurism", Caroline Tisdall and Angelo Bozzolla, Thames and Hudson, London, 1977.
  2. "A Life of Picasso, Volume II: 1907-1917", John Richardson, Jonathan Cape, London, 1996, pages 97-98.
  3. "Ellsworth Kelly: A Retrospective", Edited by Diane Waldman, Guggenheim Museum Publications, 1996.
  4. "Spencertown: Recent Paintings by Ellsworth Kelly" (including The Summons by Yve-Alain Bois), Anthony D'Offay, London, 1995.

Back to the main page