Wednesday, March 24, 2010

figure/ground tension on the Paris Metro

Shown here are Paris Metro subway letterform abstractions, which seem to function as decorative coverings, located at the Avenue Émile Zola station platform on line 10. Photograph by David Versluis © 2010.

These particular compositions use forms and counterforms that crop just enough of each letter to suggest its identity. Also, note the fine balance between positive and negative space. It seems that an ambiguous figure/ground relationship is generated when the pieces are viewed all together.

In their book “Graphic Design: The New Basics” and from the companion website authors Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips write:
Figure/ground relationships shape visual perception.
Stable figure/ground relationships exits when a form or figure stands clearly apart from its background. Most photography functions according to this principle, there someone or something is featured within a setting.
Reversible figure/ground occurs when positive and negative elements attract our attention equally and alternately, coming forward, then receding, as our eye perceives one first as dominant and next as subordinate. Reversible figure ground motifs can be seen in the ceramics, weaving, and crafts of cultures around the globe.

Images and compositions featuring ambiguous figure/ground challenge the viewer to find a focal point. Figure is enmeshed with ground, carrying the viewer's eye in and around the surface with no discernable assignment of dominance. The Cubist paintings of Picasso mobilize this ambiguity.

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