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The Homospatial Process in Visual Art

In both sculpture and paintings, the homospatial process produces metaphors.

Key points

  • The homospatial process consists of actively conceiving two or more discrete entities occupying the same space.
  • Creative metaphors in art as well as literature are produced by the homospatial process.
  • Great sculptors and other visual artists indicate their use of a homospatial process in their art.
  • Metaphor is a key feature of masterpiece art just as verbal metaphor is in masterpiece literature.

The presentation of effective metaphors in literature and in masterpiece sculpture and visual art results directly from the operation of the creative homospatial process—actively conceiving two or more discrete entities occupying the same space, a conception leading to the articulation of new identities. Conceiving discrete entities as occupying the same spatial location, superimposing and fusing them, produces the powerful aesthetic metaphorical effect of mutual interaction in both literature and visual art [using one kind of visual object with another to suggest an analogic relationship between them].

National Gallery, London. Used with permission
St Anne with Virgin
Source: National Gallery, London. Used with permission

The Art of Leonardo Da Vinci

That this superimposition and fusion of visual images, planes and locations were factors in the great Leonardo’s Da Vinci’s thinking and working is deducible from his preliminary and final productions. His preliminary drawing for his painting "St. Anne with Virgin," shows two adults superimposed and fused to the extent that there appears one body with two heads. In the final painting, the effect is maintained, and only one child is included and added to the group, so that the three figures of Mary, Anne and Jesus appear as a single unit. Two of his well-known drawings, one of men’s bodies in different positions overlapping and superimposed upon each other and the sketch for the cartoon of the mural "The Battle of Anghiari," consist of a series of heads—that of a lion, a horse and a human, each fused in sequence with one another, which is preliminary to his metaphorical depictions in the cartoon of war, symbolizing beastly madness.

The Sculpture of Henry Moore

That such visual metaphors are derived from superimpositions and fusions—that is, the homospatial process—is strongly suggested by a series of personal testimonies of diverse types of artists. These testimonies are reliable because they consist of a concatenation of substantive emphases from disparate sources, not merely anecdotes, theoretical considerations and pronouncements.

Here is a documentation directly from the English sculptor Henry Moore on such use of the homospatial process while working: “This is what the sculptor must do. He must strive continually to think of, and use, form in its full spatial completeness. He gets the solid shape, as it were, inside his head. He thinks of it, whatever its size, as if he were holding it completely enclosed in the hollow of his hand. He mentally visualizes a complex form from all round itself; he knows while he looks at one side what the other side is like.” [1].

This mental image, involving the multiple aspects of a form completely enclosed in a single spatial location—the figurative "hollow of his hand"—is a distinct instance of the homospatial process. Unlike ordinary three-dimensional visualization in which one includes from experience the appearance of objects' sides in addition to the frontal one, Moore here indicates a complicated perception. He specifically refers to visualizing a complex form from all 'round itself and thereby indicates bringing detailed and intricate features together. And he states that each side is visualized, "while that is, at the same time, as its opposite." Thus, he refers to his superimposing detailed images upon one another.

Visual Metaphors and the Art of Claes Oldenburg

Other artists of different types and periods have given indications of the homospatial process in making an aesthetic masterpiece. A sculptured bust does not consist simply in executing the different surfaces and their details one after another, successively making the forehead, the cheeks, the chin and then the eyes, nose and mouth.

On the contrary, in masterpiece sculpture, from the first sitting the whole mass must be considered and constructed in its varying circumferences; that is to say, in each of its profiles. This formulation of considering the whole mass in each of its profiles is specifically indicated in Henry Moore’s visualizing the complex form from all 'round itself.

Chelsea Press, used with permission
'Typewriter-Pie' by Claes Oldenburg.
Source: Chelsea Press, used with permission

Highly-effective sculptors see a full image in the material as they work, a superimposition or fusion of a mental image onto the specific piece of material. This is not a matter of the commonly held notion of critics and viewers of the extraction of a latent image from a characterless piece, but a mental conception actively bringing the specific characteristics of the piece into the same spatial location with a figural structure.

Particular pieces of material are superimposed or fused in a sculptor’s mind with images of particular forms and content and lead to sculptural metaphors integrating material and theme. The sculptural piece "Typewriter-Pie" by the American Claes Oldenburg, shows a fusion of an old typewriter with a pie shape.

Both entities are integrated into a visual metaphor that he designates as relating to an aircraft carrier [2]. As in these examples, the homospatial process is the crucial factor producing artistic metaphors in sculpture as well as in all types of visual as well as literary masterworks.


[1] H.Moore. The Sculptor Speaks. Listener 18, 338, 1937

[2] C.Oldenburg. Notes in Hand.New York. E.P.Dutton, 1971,47