The Figure is Always Ground

Marfa Book Company
Marfa, TX

Acrylic paint on wall, floor and ceiling. Ceiling is 16 feet high.
Room is measured at 38 feet x 23 feet.

Tracking lessons with border patrol trackers set into motion an exploration of a number of factors that challenged the models of figure-ground relationships I was taught as an artist such as the absence of clearly distinguishing separations of foreground to background, the presence of subtle disturbances on the ground, the positioning of the perceiving body relative to the object and the possibility of attempted concealment and camouflage. In order to track, one inhabits a highly conceptual landscape that questions what constitutes wholeness of form, shape, perceptual field and viewpoint.

Camouflage has become a device to reorganize space in my artwork. After the High Line installation I applied the Dazzle camouflage technique on the interior walls of the Marfa Book Company Gallery. The immersive, full-room painting invites a re-examination and new experience of the existing architecture. The pattern makes corners “disappear” and “bends” flat walls. The foreground (pattern) and background (wall) of the space become inseparable. The architectural space is continuously reorganized as the viewer moves and changes viewpoints.

I should add that there are many forms of camouflage. I am interested in two very different forms. The first type of camouflage attempts to render an object “invisible” by merging the gap between figure and ground. This tightly bound perfect “fit” between the figure and ground requires stillness. The layered structures of figure and ground become effectively locked. Differences in movement, duration and dimension cease to be perceived between the two. The second type of camouflage renders an object “unrecognizable” rather than “invisible”. It is a visually aggressive form of camouflage that confuses, misdirects or disturbs the viewer's perception. This type of camouflage is associated with movement. Dazzle camouflage is developed from the second camouflage technique. I have used Dazzle techniques in The Figure is Always Ground and Alive-nesses: Proposal for Adaptation because movement, rather than stillness, has become a dominant theme in my life and work.

Click to view Laura Gibson’s performance in The Figure is Always Ground installation.