March 4, 2013

A New Textile: "Red/Yellow Ground"

Red/Yellow Ground, hand dyed wool on linen, 11 x 10 in.

This piece is the latest in my figure/ground series, which I've been adding to for a couple of years. With this series (you can see four more examples below) I am attempting to use color shapes in a way that equalizes them in a composition, so that no shape takes precedence; I hope that our eye bounces back and forth with each shape becoming figure, then background, then figure again. 

Wladyslaw Strzeminski, Architectonic Composition (1), 1926; oil on canvas, 35 7/16 x 25 3/16 in. 

My idea for the Red/Yellow Ground composition came from this painting, which is in the fantastic current show at the Museum of Modern Art, Inventing Abstraction, which I wrote about here. This painting is the first in a series by Strzeminski in which he also "intended to unify figure with ground––to erase the earlier hierarchy between a painting's compositional elements" (from the museum website). He called this Unism. It was fun to find this artist, who was trying to do exactly what I am, though I don't have a snappy name for it. I took Strzeminski's composition and turned it 45 degrees, simplifying it somewhat.

Red/Yellow Ground detail

In order to have the image work in this figure/ground way, I made a couple of rules for myself regarding the hooking technique: I would use only horizontal and vertical hooking directions, one for each color, and I would "outline" each shape with a line of hooking so that neither shape has the illusion of passing in front of or behind the other. You can see this in the detail.

Here are four more pieces from the Figure/Ground series, completed in 2011 and 2012, hanging in the studio.


  1. It's wonderful! I love watching the series grow.

  2. These colors are stronger than those used in the previous works. Lots of energy. It makes me want to dance!

  3. I really like this idea of "equalizing in composition", Altoon. Reminded me of something I read about Matisse somewhere Arabesque

    (It's okay, you don't have to publish this..just wanted to send you the quotes!)

  4. Thank you all for your wonderful comments.
    billoo, an interesting thought about Matisse in the link.

  5. beautiful! I love the colors in this.