In the drawing class my first year of architecture school, our professor gave us an assignment to represent ambiguous depth cues, one of which is occlusion (or overlap)–the location of an object in front of another, which tells you it’s closer.
I remain fascinated with the idea that through manipulation of this particular depth cue, foreground and background can be made to switch places.
I see brightly colored forms floating in front of dark, receding empty space. But then a moment later, the dark substantial forms are in front of a bright receding background. I love the way the figure and ground pop back and forth as my eye follows the edges of the forms. Though it is a fixed image, it is very active. It is like a puzzle and a riddle.
Here’s another with similarly reversing negative/positive space:
“Quilt No. 150: Rehoboth Meander,” Michael James, 1993, The Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.
There is a long tradition of quilters’ exploration of figure and ground reversal.
In another medium altogether, this is an oil painting of mine in which I play with occlusion. It keeps my eyes and mind engaged.