Art Term of the Month: Negative Space – Street Art


Street art is one of the most exciting art genres for use of negative space! Street artists traditionally use their environment as a canvas rather than a blank piece of actual canvas or paper. This makes the interaction between the “positive” figures of the spray-painted art and the “negative” space around the figures especially interesting.

The immediate surface of a spray-painted piece of street art, the ground below it, the walls (or gaps in the walls) across from it, even other objects in its environment like plants or doors, all influence how the artwork’s “positive” figures appear to the viewer. The “negative” environment of the “street” is transformed into art just by its relationship with the “positive” figures.

"Humming Hazard" by Karl Striker, in the wild

The above piece of art, “Humming Hazard” by British street artist Karl Striker, is a great example. On the left we see the piece in a more traditional format – on a piece of paper with a bright blue background making up the negative space. On the right are the same “positive” figures of the piece spray-painted onto what appears to be the column of an overpass.

Here we can clearly see the power of the relationship between negative and positive space. The placement of the flower and hummingbird near the ground makes the flower appear to grow from the dirt, bringing the negative space of the ground forward into the piece and expanding the perceived scope of the piece from the column to the entire surrounding landscape. Without the artist’s addition of the hummingbird and flower, this landscape would have been a “negative space” to many passerby – but at the same time, without this landscape, the “positive” shapes of the hummingbird and flower would have had less presence and meaning.

This example leads us to interesting questions: Where does a piece of art begin or end? How do the ways we traditionally display art reveal the “negative space” of our day-to-day lives – the value we assign to some spaces over others? Can we call the two images we just analyzed the same piece? Is one superior to the other? How does portable art interact with the idea of negative space? Share your thoughts (or other questions) below!

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