Bauhaus Geometry

E. Jackson – Bauhaus Geometry, Red Square (test 1)  E. Jackson – Bauhaus Geometry, Red Square (test 2)  E. Jackson – Bauhaus Geometry, Red Square (test 3)  E. Jackson – Bauhaus Geometry, Red Square (test 4)
Bauhaus Geometry, Red Square (test pieces)
7 x 12cm, watercolour, plaster, 2020

E. Jackson – Bauhaus Geometry, Yellow Triangle (test)  E. Jackson – Bauhaus Geometry, Blue Circle (test)
Bauhaus Geometry, Yellow Triangle (test piece) and Blue Circle (test piece)
7 x 12cm, watercolour, plaster, 2021

Foundational Bauhaus colour theory made definitive connections between primary colours and forms, assigning red to the square, yellow to the triangle and blue to the circle. This body of work retains these colour and form designations but introduces a fluid ground into the fixed schema – the geometric shape becomes diffuse and variable causing figure and ground boundaries to disperse.

Figures and Backgrounds – the immeasurable boundary line

One of the principles of gestalt psychology is the figure-ground relationship, it describes how perceptual recognition separates objects from backgrounds. This division happens at a boundary, where the edge of the figure distinguishes itself from the ground. References to this primary feature of perception are found in the writings of painters, philosophers, psychologists, phenomenologists, mathematicians, and other scholars of visual experience and cognition.

In his book Point and Line to Plane, Kandinsky develops a theory of composition through a series of geometrical, visual, and spiritual concepts. He writes, “The point can grow and cover the entire ground plane unnoticed – then, where would the boundary between point and plane be?” The question is practical and theoretical, and in the context of Kandinsky’s schema he offers aesthetic examples using pedagogic reasoning and personal experience to formulate conclusions. The philosopher Charles S. Peirce, (writing in The Logic of Quantity) approaches the figure-ground relation through a complex examination of the boundary line. He begins, “A drop of ink has fallen upon the paper. There is a line of demarcation between the black and the white. Now I ask about the points of this line, are they black or white?” For Peirce, the colour of the dividing line between the black ink-blot and its white background becomes an exploration of uninterrupted surfaces, continuity-breaches and boundary properties.

Peirce’s thoughts about continuum and demarcation lines are investigated further by the contemporary philosopher of mathematics Fernando Zalamea, who adds more complexity to the ink-blot boundary line in his description, “around an actual mark on the continuous line stands a supermultitudinous myriad of infinitesimals.” The philosophers’ ink-spot and the reasoning that reduces its edge to an undifferentiated entity is one way of taking a boundary apart. Another description that philosophers have proposed is, the boundary as a series of thin layers with fewer dimensions than the bodies they bound. In these accounts the boundary is atomised and multiplex, undergoes disintegration and collapses into uncertainty; and, as Wittgenstein observes, “an indefinite boundary is not really a boundary at all.” The indefinite boundary suggests the formless, amorphous and nebulous – here, the contour is not a division between two things but an indeterminate area of interrelation.

The figure background relation is examined in Merleau-Ponty’s Phenenomology of Perception. In one section of the text he uses an example of a red patch on a homogeneous background, and notes, “My gaze does not merge with the outline or the patch as it does with the redness considered concretely: it ranges over and dominates them.” For Merleau-Ponty, it is the embodied viewing subject that inhabits the figure and imbues the coloured patch with representational meaning and significance – here the boundary exists in sensation.

In these examples the boundary between figure and ground is open to question; it is myriad, thin-layered, both perceptible and hypothetical. The boundary is always relative, as Alan Sidelle characterises in his paper Rigidity, ontology, and semantic structure, “The world is capable of being cut up in so many ways, and whenever we consider such a cut (some principle of individuation), we are considering the world cut that way, i.e., so articulated.” In this context thresholds become a matter of consciousness, attention and awareness, and we can choose to disregard the sharply delineated figure in preference for the undifferentiated background.