I always feel enjoyable to visit a gallery that I never been to. In order to review my theme figure-ground phenomenon from a broader view, I decided to visit an exhibition. After my online research, the exhibition of SGFA (Shalini Ganendra Fine Art) caught my attention simply because of the interesting exhibition theme of Zac Lee as well as the unique art style of Sujeewa Kumari and Sanjeewa Kumara. Thanks to the online catalogues obtained from SGFA’s website, I could make my decision easier and knew better about the artists before visiting the gallery.
Unlike many Malaysian art galleries located at commercial area, SGFA was converted from a corner lot bungalow (Fig. 1) in the housing estate of Section 16 in Petaling Jaya. The whole building was remodeled and repainted in white without losing the essence of Southeast Asia culture. A group of untitled steel sculptures (Fig. 2) was displayed at front yard, which were quite eye-catching with their red colour paint, reminded me of Max Wertheimer’s ‘Laws of Organization in Perceptual Form’. Basically, according to the law of similarity (Wertheimer, 1923, p. 301) , the placement and shapes of these constellated sculptures can be categorized into two groups: one group of perpendicular poles yet another group in horizontal layout. Although the distance (or said negative space) in between the sculptures is inconsistent, we still can employ both the law of similarity and the law of proximity at the same time. Despite the proximal distance, the law of similarity has overpowered the law of proximity. In this instance, we perceive two groups of homogeneous objects rather than one group of proximal objects. Besides, these sculptures perceptually form up a horizontal line that leads the audience to the gallery’s entrance by refering to the law of direction. According to Rudolf Arnheim’s assertion (Rudolf, 1969, p. 219), the vertical poles can be treated as object lines while the strokes found in horizontal lantern-like sculptures belong to hatch lines.
Entering the main hall, a series of circular framed painting were hanged on the wall (Fig. 3). These were painted by Sanjeewa Kumara. I tried to perceive these paintings for far, in general the alignment of these paintings are perceived as a single direction in accordance with the factor of direction. In addition, these paintings are also shaped homogeneously, according to the factor of similarity (Wertheimer, 1923, p. 301). Kumara’s been keen on adopt vibrant colour and oil paint medium. Lots of his paintings are applied in complementary colour combinations, e.g., Who are You King (Fig. 4), True Affection, Star and Tree of Life Started to Fly (Fig. 5). I find his Tree of Life Started to Fly especially interesting because of the negative space set up. A tall pole-liked lotus stem connects the objects that placed at top and bottom, procures a symmetrical layout. Max Wertheimer (1923, p. 301) asserts this as an attribute of the factor of prägnanz in ‘Laws of Organization in Perceptual Form’. “Simplicity is an property of whole,” said Wertheimer (1923, p. 301), “the addition must be viewed also in terms of such characteristic ‘whole properties’ as closure, equilibrium, and symmetry.” Rudolf Arnheim (1969, p. 67) has further developed this concept by introducing ‘leveling’ and ‘sharpening’. Arnheim (1969, p. 67) explains that,
“Leveling is characterized by such devices as unification, enhancement of symmetry, reduction of structural features, repetition, dropping of non fitting details, elimination of obliqueness. Sharpening enhances differences, stresses obliqueness.”
Note also that the figure and lotuses below are painted in pink in contrast to green background. The pink and green are complementary colors which perceptually give rise a higher attention to audience. According to the law of simultaneous colour contrast (Chevreul, 1855, p. 15) , the perceptual difference is more identified when shared in the complementary colour, e.g., red and green, purple and orange, etc.
In accordance with the factor of similarity, the elements of Kumara’s painting can be categorized by referring to colours, shapes and species, such as eyes, lotus (Fig. 6), flowers (Fig. 7), leaves, etc. We could also perceptually interpret the elements inside by adopting the factor of proximity. For example, the flowers are put up in proximal distance as a result of stronger bond, so to say, to impact the audience. Both factor of similarity and factor of proximity could also be used to interpret the mixed media painting Shadow (Fig. 8). It was painted by Sujeewa Kumari, another Sri Lankan artist. I like how the black inked dots are distributed. In general, the dots are perceived into the same homogenous group; moving on to the next level, few of the large dots are perceived as a a group in accordance of similarity of size (Rudolf, 1969, p. 80).
Proceeding to the first floor, there was where the Malaysian artist Zac Lee exhibited his works., under the theme of When Come Spring (?). Many of his works appear in symmetrical balanced, such as Threat of Threat (Fig. 11), Truth and Dare (Fig. 12), etc. We could again interpret these stable, harmony designs with the use of factor of prägnanz. Rudolf (1969, p. p.67) asserts that the tension of visual pattern tends to be reduced with the application of leveling. Meanwhile, it’s interesting to find the clear placement of the positive space and negative space in his works. The enormous positive space is found in Duck in the Dark (Fig. 12) while the negative space dominates majority of space in Listen. Generally, we tend to perceive the surrounded object as figure yet the surrounding unbound area as the background (Rudolf, 1969, p. 228). In the case of Duck in the Dark, why do we perceive the ducks as figure instaed of ground even though the ducks perceptually surround the river? In fact, the texture, colour and simplicity of shapes play the important roles to identify the figure and ground (Rudolf, 1969, p. 231). As far as the colours are concerned the saturated yellow ducks tend to be in comparison with the dark blue river.
Arnheim, Rudolf (1969) Art and Visual Perception: A psychology of the creative eye. Berkeley CA: University of California Press
Chevreul, Michel-Eugene (1855) The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colours, and Their Applications to the Arts. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans
Wertheimer, Max (1923) ‘Laws of Organization in Perceptual Forms’, Untersuchungen zur Lehre von der Gestalt 2 (4), 301-350, http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Wertheimer/Forms/forms.htm (visited 15/10/13)