Introduction : Figurative Compositions
"Are we to mark this day with a white or a black stone?" Cervantes,
Don Quixote, 2, 2 ,10.
Does nothing comes from nothing?
He had bought a large map representing the sea
Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
A map they could all understand
Lewis Carroll's blank map
The crew, in Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark , were delighted
to receive the Bellman's map with nothing on it, saying that Meridian
Lines on maps were "merely conventional signs". They thanked
their Captain for bringing them "the best - A perfect and absolute
blank!" It was something they understood.
In Raymond Briggs's book When the Wind Blows there is a central double-page
spread showing nothing but the white heat of a bomb explosion with pink-tinted
edges. Something ends up with nothing.
When beginning a drawing, Laura Fairlie (in Wilkie Collins' novel The
Woman in White ) declares
"Fond as I am of drawing I am so conscious of my own ignorance
that I am more afraid than anxious to begin".
Maggi Hambling has said
`I think white is the most powerful colour. A lot of people may think
red is, or might say black is, but the fact is that whatever colour
your put with white is emasculated in some way. I suppose it's so powerful
because it is pure light. The space in a watercolour where you don't
put a mark should be as eloquent as the space where you do. The white
of the paper is as much a part of the work as where you make your marks,
where you put the colour'.
White is a blank sheet of paper.
It is the colour of snow and milk, of clean sheets; of lambs; of woolly
cumulus clouds in the sky. It symbolises purity, chastity and innocence
and triumph of the spirit over the flesh. The souls of the redeemed
who have attained spirituality are usually to be seen in pictures as
being clad in white robes.
White is the innocence of the bride in her white garments at a white
wedding. Dante saw his saintly host of those who were blessed in Paradise
in the form of a white rose (also an emblem of the House of York from
Tudor times). The archangel Gabriel holds the white lily of the annunciation
as a sign that a pure soul is necessary before Christ can take possession
of it. In Revelations a white stone was given to those `who overcometh'
and Christ cantered upon a white horse. Buddha was said to be borne
to earth on a white elephant. The `white bird' represents our soul or
conscience and the white dove represents peace.
The White Merle was a white bird of old Basque folklore, whose singing
would restore sight to the blind. A white night is a sleepless night
- in French (for Annick) `passer une nuit blanche'. Days marked with
a white stone used to be an expression for days to be remembered with
gratification. The Romans used a white stone, or a piece of chalk, to
mark their lucky days on the calendar. Days that were unlucky they marked
with charcoal. White sometimes masks the truth. It is called a white
lie if you say something untruthful in order to avoid hurting someone
else's feelings. Can you see white clearly? Is it something or nothing?
Is it a veil like the snow covering the ground? `I'm dreaming of a white
Christmas'. Buildings are whitewashed and, if you want to white wash
something or someone, it is to hide unpleasant facts or the truth about
them in order to make them acceptable. In sport and games, if you thoroughly
beat your opponent it can be called a `whitewash'.
A few years ago when the West Indians thrashed the English in a cricket
test series, someone called it a `blackwash'. In idiomatic English,
if you refer to something as a white elephant you mean that it is expensive
but completely useless - a nothingness. Useful things like fridges and
washing machines, and other large electrical goods, are often called
`white goods'. In order to convey good clean honesty, governments have
chosen the name of white for their offices - `Whitehall' and the `White
House', for instance.
White papers are the official reports which give the policy of the Government
on a particular issue. Whitebait dinners used to be served to cabinet
ministers at Blackwall in Greenwich towards the close of the parliamentary
session. But whitebait is coloured silver not white and, while I think
about it white wine isn't the colour of white at all. The white of an
egg is only white once you've cooked it. Off-white and cream are the
ugly sisters of white. `Persil washes whitest' and have you seen but
a white lily grow? White is usually thought to be cool but white hot
is extremely hot. You can turn white as a sheet if you're frightened.
You can bleed somebody white if you extort all of their money. You can
wave a white flag to surrender, and hope to be immune from harm (in
respectable circles!). You can show a white feather to cowards and swear
black is white. To hit the white is to be quite right or to make a good
shot in archery - the white being the inner circle of the target - the
The professional or clerical worker, `whose calling demands a certain
nicety of attire' is called a white collared worker. You can drink white
satin (an old nickname for gin) at places called the White Horse. Wilkie
Collins' book The Woman in White is one of the great novels. The White
Lady is a ghostly spirit in many country's superstitions and myths,
which was a general foreboding of someone's death in the house. White
magic is a sorcery in which the devil is not involved, as opposed to
black magic. A white slave was an expression for a woman sold or forced
A white squall is one which produces no diminution of light, in contradistinction
to a black squall, in which the clouds are black and heavy. `White Leg'
(also called milk leg) is an ailment of women, usually occurring after
parturition, bringing about (among other things) a whiteness of the
skin. There is a disease of the joints which used to be called `White
Swelling' in which the synovial membranes passes into a pulpy degeneration.
White can be the colour of someone's skin.
The British Empire of the late 19th century introduced the vulgar term
`the white man's burden', meaning a duty supposed to be thrust on the
white races to educate and govern what they called `coloured' races
for their own welfare. Cricketers, tennis players and bowlers wear white
clothes. White pepper, I think, is inferior to black pepper. White sauce
(made from milk, flower and butter) accompanies meals. White spirit
is not a ghost but a colourless petrol liquid, used to make paint thinner
or to clean surfaces. White hair is a sign of old age - that's why George
and I went bald instead!
In its opposite symbolism white-livered means lack of courage If you
refer to someone as a whited sepulchre you mean that they appear to
be morally good but are, in reality, evil. The `White League' is another
name for the Klu Klux Klan. Interesting to note that the `Klu' of Klu
Klux Klan was not recognised by my word-processing `spell-check' when
I was typing out this stuff, whereas Klux Klan was!
Cage's 4' 33"
While we look at one of Rauschenberg's all-white paintings we will listen
to the silent piece in three movements by John Cage which he composed
at Black Mountain in 1952, entitled 4 minutes 33 seconds (4' 33",
or sometimes entitled `Tacet for any instrument/s'. You can buy it on
CD on the Hungaraton label HCD12991). The work was first performed in
August 1952 at the Maverick Concert hall in Woodstock, New York - with
David Tudor performing it. Apparently, in order to let the audience
know when the three divisions of the work started an finished Tudor
closed the cover of the piano keyboard at the start of each movement
and opening it at the end of the specified time. It has been suggested
by a person in Kent that the possible reason for Cage's choice of length
and title for his piece 4' 33" is that the number adds up to 273
seconds, which, on the Celsius temperature scale, is 273 degrees - absolute
What is the distinction between music and sound? Is silence something
or nothing? Silence allows us to hear and listen. Hearing is about perceiving
a sound, while listening is making a point of concentrating on what
you hear. We are more aware of our selves in a state of silence - our
hearts can be heard to beat, our blood hums in our heads, our eyelashes
crash together when they blink and we are more aware of the sound of
our breathing. Our awareness is heightened. Something can come from
`Erased de Kooning drawing by Robert Rauschenberg Willem de Kooning
(that most revered Rotterdam-born American Abstract Expressionist painter,
whose brush strokes have been being worshipped by strings of genuflectors
these past few years) once made a drawing which became almost a nothingness.
In the early 50s Robert Rauschenberg had been working for some time
at erasing - `not just by deleting certain lines, you understand, but
by erasing the whole thing'. Using his own work for rubbing out wasn't
really satisfactory so he hit upon the idea of approaching de Kooning,
who obliged him by giving him a drawing which he particularly liked
and would positively miss if he parted with it. So Rauschenberg took
de Kooning's drawing home. It was `done with a hard line, and it was
greasy too'. He was alleged to have spent a month rubbing out the drawing,
using up to 15 different types of erasors. Rauschenberg liked the result
and hung it up in his studio. Some of the faint lines were just discernable
on the white paper and the inscription beneath the work read `Erased
de Kooning drawing by Robert Rauschenberg 1953'.
Is this an example of nothing coming from nothing, something coming
from nothing, or nothing coming from something? Some of you may think
it is something coming from something but unfortunately, or fortunately
(as may be the case) I do not have the slide of Rauschenberg's erased
de Kooning drawing. Not having a slide of it seems to be in the spirit
of the game. Perhaps Rauschenberg was right when he said his paintings
were "invitations to look somewhere else".
`The quality of nothing hath not such need to hide itself. Let's see:
come, if it be nothing, I shall not need spectacles'.
Does the light really go off when you close the fridge? Someone (I think
it was Berthold Brecht) wondered what happened to the holes in the cheese
when the cheese had been eaten. Similarly, where does the hole in the
polomint go once it's been sucked? What would happen to a Henry Moore
sculpture if the holes were filled in. Nothingnesses exist to hold the
form together. The holes in our bodies serve distinctive functions.
Think of the mouth, the ear-holes, and the anus.
now going to go on to talk about `cross-hatching'. Cross-hatching
has nothing to do with angry chicks emerging from their eggs nor to
do with devising ill-humoured plots or schemes. Furthermore cross-hatching
is nothing to do with causing fertilisation between birds of different
breeds nor moving to the other side of an opening in the deck of a
ship or an opening in a wall where food can be served between kitchen
and dining room.
In defining our terms we need to examine the meaning of both words:
a cross is a mark or shape consisting of two intersecting lines; to
hatch is to mark with parallel or crossed lines to indicate shading.
Cross-hatching for the purpose of this talk is therefore - the hatching
of a surface with parallel lines in two or more series crossing or
overlapping each other. Or, to put it another way - the crossing of
a series of drawn lines of various lengths, widths and at various
angles, usually in pen and ink with which the artist constructs his
or her areas of shadowing or modelling.We may permit pencil or crayon
as alternative media and, of course, the medieval fresco and tempera
painters often used a similar technique with their brush. I think
that's about the crux of the matter and it has crossed my mind, while
I speak, that the word 'cross' comes from the Latin crux and the word
'hatch' seems to come from the 15th century Old French word hatcher,
to chop, from hache; hatchet.
As a means of creating tonal effects by drawing repeated and parallel
horizontal, vertical, or diagonal lines cross-hatching has its distinctive
uses for those so inclined to employ the method. You will find that
some definitions of cross-hatching restrict the number of sets of
hatched parallel lines to only two, in order to produce the effects
of shade. This is of course, we find, an unnecessary limitation and
it would merely bring about unasked-for constraints upon the enthusiastic
James Joyce has asked -
`Will whatever will be written in lappish language with inbursts of
Maggyer always seem semposed, black looking white and white guarding
black, in that siamixed twoatalk used twist stern swift and jolly
roger?' I now wish to comment on the qualities that can be achieved
by the various overlapping of different groups of parallel lines,
whether they be the intersection of two sets of parallel lines, three
or more. In passing I trust that those of you who are not familiar
with the drawing process appreciate that the colour white in a drawing
is usually achieved by not drawing at all and the colour black is
usually in this case made manifest by applying a superabundant layering
of cross-hatches (or is it crosshatchings?) in the same area. Black
itself indicates the very quintessence of the unmanifest and to some
it is an unpropitious colour. Milton described black as `staid wisdom's
But to the likes of a Malevich, Motherwell, Rodchenko, Newman, or
Reinhardt, and others, they revelled in its lack of hue; its very
capacity to absorb light... The slide here shows a painting of a black
square on a white background by Malevich, painted in 1913 and exhibited
first in 1915. Upon his Black Square Malevich declared (seemingly
drawing closely, but flatly denied by Malevich himself, from the ideas
represented in P.D.Ouspensky's Tertium Organum ., 1912) that he was
grabbed by a ... timidity bordering on fear when it came to leaving
the `world of will and idea'... the reality in which I had believed.
But the blissful sense of liberating non-objectivity drew me forth
into the `desert', where nothing is real except feeling ... and so
feeling became the substance of my life.
You will see that the ` Black Square ' is the quintessence of austerity;
a painting which pictures nothing - but said to be an expression of
mystical value. At the time some regarded this as the end of painting.
Malevich, on the other hand, considered it to be the release of the
tyranny of representation with its pointless `drawing from Nature'
On the particular slide here (if I manage to find it in time) we have
to assume that there is a spelling error or a misprint of Malevich's
first name `Kasimir' .
Here also (I hope) we have Claude Bragdon's influential cube of 1912
- a possible prototype of black squares. I'm not referring in this
talk by the way to those areas in space, known as `black holes' where
gravity is so strong that nothing, not even light, can move away from
them. There are also, of course, the black squares of Ad Reinhardt.
Here we have on the screen his Abstract Painting, Number 33, done
in 1963. In 1918. In an attempt to be concerned with creating `the
last painting which anyone can make' Reinhardt saw these works as
`unmanipulated and unmanipulatable, useless, unmarketable, irreducible,
unphotographable, unreproducible, inexplicable icon'.
I would like to have discussed at this point Josef Albers' series
of `homages to squares' but I I haven't got the time just now!.
When he was still under the influence of Josef Albers our old friend
Robert Rauschenberg made a series of monochrome black and white paintings
in 1952 and 1953. Some of the paintings were multilayered with black
pigment emphasising the physical quality of the painted surface. Here
we have Barnet Newman's painting entitled ` Eve ' . reproduced in
The Independent on Sunday on the 12th of April 1992 ( by way of introducing
colour to the lecture) - and here is a slide of my own cross-hatched
copy of Malevich's painting- White Square on a White Background ,
juxtaposed with a collaged version of the same painting. Malevich's
seemed to reach the ultimate in minimalism - a dead end to non-representation.
The polarity of black and white is something, something which ...
but I digress. I must return to my theme of cross-hatching.
The intersection of these lines carries with it a particular dynamic
quality according to the particular angles of the lines employed.
Right angled cross-hatching brings about a negative or passive quality
and this can be used to advantage when contrasting figure with the
ground. [one of these days I will get down to discussing the different
effects obtained by the use of angles in cross-hatching.
03 Figure and Ground
also of the ambiguity of figure and ground. Sometimes we are uncertain
as to what is the object and what is the space. The whiteness of the
paper already exists before you proceed to draw. It has established
itself as a fundamental entity; a ground to tread on. What marks you
make on the paper are as important as the marks you don't make; or is
the opposite the case? The editing and selection of gap-making is fundamental
to drawing. Nothingness, therefore, allows something else to exist.
Planets move in space. Planets need space to move about in. Space doesn't
need planets. The pencil (or whatever other drawing instrument you are
using) clothes the naked surface of the paper with a network of marks
and the paper often peeps through the drawing. A picture is made up
of a balancing between the making, the removing, and the not-making
of marks. Somehow a drawing represents the trails of a journey like,
as Klee put it - `taking a line for a walk', which is a far more conducive
activity than taking a dog for a walk.
Listen to what Maurice de Sausmarez has to say about line in his useful
little manual Basic design: the dynamics of visual form:
`A line can be thought of as a chain of spots joined together. It indicates
position and direction and has within itself a certain energy; the energy
appears to travel along its length and to be intensified at either end,
speed is implied and the space around it is activated. In a limited
way it is capable of expressing emotions, e.g. a thick line is associated
with boldness, a straight line with strength and stability, a zig zag
with excitement, although all these are crude generalisations. Straight
lines of the same length and thickness in parallel groupings may introduce
factors of proportional relationship and rhythmic interval; change the
lengths and thicknesses and more complex rhythms and optical `beat'
De Sausmarez then goes on to discuss the dynamics of horizontal, vertical
and diagonal lines. His little book is well worth your inspection; written
for Foundation `basic design' courses in the 60s, when staff student
ratios in art schools were one teacher to five students! De Sausmarez
also discusses the phenomenon of alternation between figure and ground,
(and I quote from him again) - `where spatial ambiguity is experienced',
as well as `emphatic fluctuations of figure and ground' -
`at one moment the black figure emerges from the white ground, at another
the white figure emerges from the black ground. We are forced to recognise
the fact that in the field of vision nothing is negative; the space
round and in the image is as positive as the image itself.'
There we are - `nothing' has the same status as `something' after all.
Let us praise from the roof tops - gaps in drawing, the space between
objects, pauses in music, silence among noise, holes in Polo mints and
cheese, emptyness - and what hitherto I have been calling `nothingness'.
Let us also praise what Arthur Koestler called the - `depersonalised
after-life, beyond the confines of space, time, and beyond the limits
of our comprehension.'
that tiny little interval of time between the infiniteness of the before
and the after-life. Life is merely the figure on the ground - a drop
in the ocean, a grain of sand in the desert. It is the space left on
the paper, therefore, which is now becoming the important `something'
and the marks made by the drawing are perhaps less significant. Do we
have more a memory of image and sound than we do of space and silence?
Can we distinguish between one blankness from another or one silence
from another. If we can, do we follow our noses and contemplate our
own essential nature to the exclusion of all else as being the only
way of achieving pure enlightenment. Is this what looking at the canvases
of such painters as Rothko, Malevich, Ad Reinhardt, Barnett Newman &
Co. is all about - looking at space; thinking about ourselves-looking-at-space;
our significance and our insignificance, within space and time infinitesimal?
Jean Dubuffet has said that - `Art does not lie in on the bed that is
made for it; it runs away as soon as one says its name; it loves to
be incognito; its best moments are when it forgets what it is called.'
Malevich At this point I would have liked to have shown you the `Suprematist'
oil painting on canvas: `White on White' by Malevich, painted in 1918.
It is a composition showing a white square situated at a slight angle
on the top right hand side of the square canvas, painted upon a slightly
whiter ground. Malevich regarded the square as the `purest' of geometric
forms and with such paintings he reached the ultimate distillations
of his ideas. He'd reached the light at the end of the tunnel where
the journey ended. He thus returned to the human form and during his
last years he painted extraordinary portraits in the manner of the old
masters such as Piero and Holbein.
04 The Tartan
form of right-angled cross hatching is, of course, the tartan. In case
you don't know (and since I do not possess a slide of a tartan at this
moment). a tartan is a design of straight lines, crossing at right angles,
to give a chequered appearance, especially the distinctive designs associated
with Scottish clans. Scottish meaning - relating to, or characteristic
of an area called Scotland, its people, their Gaelic language or their
English dialect. Scotland being a country that is part of the United
Kingdom, occupying the north of Great Britain. Great Britain being the
largest island of Europe and in the British Isles, separated from the
mainland of Western Europe by the English Channel and the North Sea.
Europe being the second smallest continent in the world, forming the
Western peninsula of the land mass of Eurasia.
The world being the Earth as a planet. The Earth (aged about four thousand
million years old) being the third planet from the sun. The sun being
a gaseous body or star that is the source of heat and light for the
planets within the solar system. The Solar system being a system containing
the sun and the bodies held in its gravitational field, including the
planets, asteroids and comets - all moving about in Space. Space being
the unlimited three-dimensional expanse which all material objects are
located or, if you like, the region beyond the earth's atmosphere occurring
between the celestial bodies of the universe. The universe being the
aggregate of all existing matter, energy, and space.
Now to get back to tartans. Now in Scotland some of its residents sometimes
wear knee-length pleated skirts called kilts. These kilts are often
worn during Burns nights when Scottish people often drink a lot of Scotch
whisky which tends to hurt their heads when hung over and which often
results in the need to wear Aberdeen Angus beefsteaks as hats overnight
to alleviate the pain. Burns, by the way, happens to be a Scottish lyric
poet and has nothing to do with burning, scalding or `scorching hats'
which is what they do when they cook their hat-like steaks for breakfast
afterwards. An over-imbibing of whisky, of course, brings about what
is known as a `Scotch Rash' which can be determined by a short examination
of the noses of heavy Scotch drinkers.
The rash, if you like, resembles a kind of nasal cross hatching - defined
clearly upon the surface of the nose by a network of hairlike-thin capillary
veins that are meant to convey oxygen-depleted blood to the heart. It
is not for nothing (and remember this lecture is about nothing and something)
that `Scotch Rash' is an anagram of cross hatch and `hat scorching'
is an anagram of cross hatching. A `check' (besides being a bill of
exchange [if spelt `cheque']) of course is a pattern of squares or crossed
lines. The word check also means `to pause, or cause to pause', indicating
an abrupt `space of time' which one allows for reflection, restraint
or control. Here we come across that space in between again - that oh
so important space - that valuable nothingness!
The word `check' comes from the Old French eschec, a `check' in the
game of chess, hence a pause (to verify something). There we are again
- a pause, a space, the gap in between, a significant nothingness. When
we look at a chess board do we see black squares on white or white squares
on black? Which is figure which is ground? The black squares only exist
because of the intervening white squares and vice versa. The interaction
of tension and relief.
Gingham (that cotton fabric, usually woven of two coloured yarns in
a checked or striped design) will not be discussed here as another form
of cross-hatching you'll be relieved to hear. If I may, I wish to continue
by referring to what one or two scholars have said about cross-hatching:
Mr Henry Blackburn, an Edwardian commentator upon the subject, advises
us against mannerism in our use of cross-hatching:
The rules laid down as to the methods of line work, the direction of
lines for the expression of certain textures, "cross-hatching,"
are, if followed too closely, apt to lead to hardness and mannerism
in the young artist, and he will with difficulty shake off.
In the matter of 'giving every chance to the camera for reproduction'
and the subsequent printing of a drawing, Mr Harry Furniss gave the
following recommendation when advising how to draw in pen and ink :
Now when cross-hatching it is wise to draw one set of lines some time
before the other, not crossing them until the ink is dry. Otherwise
the result will be bad when the drawing is reproduced.
Controlling the proportion and scale of those in-between island spots
of whiteness in the paper, among the criss-cross strokes of the pen
nib is exacting. It's back to having a respect for the value of holes
in the polo mints or the cheese again. The space between the lines is
fundamental. You can't play a harp that doesn't have gaps between the
strings. Prison bars need to be spaced out sufficiently so that a prisoner
can saw his way out and escape. Spokes of bicycle wheels need space
between them so that we can see through the wheels. A wonderful cross-hatched
image is that of the fishing net and the mesh needs gaps in between
in order to allow the water to flow through when catching fish! It is
essential to draw with an unclogged and smooth-running pen nib, as well
as securing a receptive paper, according to what particular cross-hatching
method is desired. I could go on at length about the virtues and delights
of the flowing of the black ink as the pen glides across the white paper
making its marks and I could descant upon those marvelously energetic
devices called stripes and those gorgeous parallel lines. But I must
temper myself. A dictionary definition of a stripe, by the way, is
`a relatively long band of distinctive colour or texture that differs
from the surrounding material or background'.
Another case of a gap allowing a thing like a stripe to exist. Which
is the stripe then - the band or the background? God bless interstices!
Each allowing the other to exist.
Crow, cross, chat, macrami, karate, chant.
Writing upon 'Cross-Hatching' Mr Edmund J. Sullivan refers to the work
of Arthur Boyd Houghton and he warns us of the dangers of what we now
call the moiré pattern effect which is a shimmering pattern effect
that is sometimes produced by the superimposition of different sets
of intersecting parallel lines at different angles from one another.
Technically remarkable is his fertility of resource and mastery of cross-hatching,
in which he indulges freely where it will serve his purpose. It is always
bold and luminous, and he manages to avoid what may be called the "flicker,"
which distresses the eye, not only in a pen drawing, but more still
in the case of reproduction on zinc or copper, where it is frequently
emphasised by the acid.
Mr Sullivan goes on to discuss the 'remarkable subtlety' of cross-hatching:
yet in the simplest manner by more or less parallel lines of varying
thickness taking generally the direction of the form. The thicknesses
of these lines and their proportion to the white space between them
shows how valuable the slightest difference can be made if used with
What a wondrous device cross-hatching is for the constructing of tones
in a drawing. With what magnificent results can the judicious and resourceful
draughtsman employ it as a means of affording a satisfactory and pleasing
method of obtaining deep and dark shadows. One must, however, advise
the aspiring cross-hatching student to accustom him or herself to a
very sparing use of this expedient. It is requisite that, however numerous
the tones are in a pen and ink drawing (and they should not be too abundant),
the general effect should be simple and homogeneous.
TO A SELECTION OF EXAMPLES