Sunday, June 9, 2013

Heinrich Campendonk: “Woman with Fish,” 1919 — masterful figure/ground relationships

Heinrich Campendonk
Dutch, born in Germany, 1889–1957
Woman with Fish, 1919
From the collection of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
Photograph by versluis 2013

In this delightful woodcut the printmaker sees the negative space (ground) as significant as the positive forms (figure). Campendonk encapsulates the “white” shapes by using black shapes, exaggerating the visual tension and producing an image of greater emotive impact. To highlight this observation, Emil Ruder writes in his book Typography, “The modern artist raises empty space to be an element of equal value in design. Instead of space flowing round the surface [as did the Renaissance artist] we have surface tension. The white surfaces are enriched with tensions and the white is activated up to the edge of the format.” (1)

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art didactic explains the piece this way:

Internationally naïve, this image of a woman amidst all of the comforts of home was inspired by African and folk art, as well as by children’s art. The woman’s table is complete with food and drink, and her cat lingers by her side. Her domestic setting also includes its own inventive work of art. Just behind her hangs a framed picture with cross, moon and stars. Campendonk, a German Expressionist artist noted for his imaginative imagery, enlivens this composition with hard-edge abstract forms—repeated squares and circles within circles—that form decorative, rhythmic patterns.
  1. Ruder, Emil. Typography: A Manual of Design. Student Ed. New York: Hastings House, Publishers, Inc., 1981. 48-49. Print.

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