Spatial representations

Spatial representations are an important and common aspect of most cultures; they both provide information about the world and influence the way people think about and visualize the world (Downs, 1981, 1985). Spatial representations are a complex topic involving the scientific technique of perspective and incorporating different periods of art. The techniques involved can be seen in a large number of artworks, such as sculpture, painting, photography, and collage. David Hockney recently said, ‘It’s always space that I’m interested in – pictorial space,’ and that is what interests me too. For the purposes of this webpage, I will focus on my explorations of pictorial space.

Object-oriented space

In “African Sunglasses” (shown above), the Rayban sunglasses provide the elements with a place to be (The tiger on top, the elephants within the frames, the hanging monkey, and the alligator below. I have included my version of the Shepard elephant. The feet of the upside-down elephant deliberately overall the frame in the wrong way. This is one of many spatial representations

Rotational inner space

In “The Sacred Cow” (shown on the right), all of the elements rotate in a 360-degree manner within the cow. The snake-charmer is in the center. Everything swirls around him

Sacred cow

Two planes

In “And pigs will fly” (shown on the right), I set about trying to find a way of having both vertical and horizontal planes in one picture. To remedy this, I changed the scale of the elephant to become the main focus. In nature, long straight lines are an impossibility and therefore, I used the well-known phrase “And pigs will fly” to refer to that.

And pigs will fly

Inner spiral

In “Evolution to extinction” (shown on the right), I set about trying to find a way of having a spiral space. I chose a ram because its horns are spiral-shaped. I used a computer to copy the horn and enlarge it. It became the center of the ram and the structure upon which the evolved man stands.

Evolution to extinction?

Impossible space

In paintings such as “Neverending nonsense” (shown on the right), you would never come across a Mobius in real life and hence, the image. In this case, the use of a Mobius refers to the neverending stupidity of Brexit. Spatial representations can thus be used to ask a question

Neverending nonsense

Reverse Perspective

In my painting “What to believe?” (shown on the right), I looked at paintings created by Patrick Hughes and decided to use a similar room structure as a basis for this painting. I used ambiguity to raise an important question.

Inner anti-gravity

In paintings such as “The Sacred Cow jumped over the moon” (shown on the right), the space within the cow defies the laws of physics. The horizon deliberately bends the wrong way

The Sacred Cow jumped over the moon

Inverting horizon

In paintings such as “Inverting horizon” and “Which side is better?” (shown on the right), the horizon flips by 180-degrees. There is thus an up and a down world shown.

Horizon inversion - art gallery
Which side is better?

Different horizons

The horizons on the left are not the same as on the right

Night and Day on Skull-House Island
The Rainbow whae and the insular snail

Ambiguous Space

These are based on “Kerby (After Hogarth) Useful Knowledge” by David Hockney and “Satire on False Perspective” by Hogarth -both famous spatial representations. My paintings from 1992 are no longer available.

ambiguous space
ambiguous space

Warped perspective

In “The Suspended Sea” (shown on the right), I used a computer to distort an image of a cow in two opposing ways (big to small and vice versa). I then used visual language from the cows to create all the other elements. On the bottom left part of the image, I created a kind of fisheye lens effect with the plants and reversed it above

The Suspended Sea

Reflected horizon

In this painting, most of the spatial representaions above the horizon are reflected by 180 degrees

Reflected horizon

Seesaw horizon

In this painting, the central horizon is on a seesaw and could thus rotate!

Seesaw horizon

Opposing horizons

In this painting, there are horizons facing both up and down. I used a repeating rainbow-like color structure to frame the elements. 

Opposing horizons

Inner wavy horizon

Space contorts with the wavy horizon. The picture on the left is called “Life in Vietnam” and the one on the right is called “Party on!”. They both celebrate happiness.

Life in Vietnam
Party on!

Inner jumbled perspective

This picture is called “Is anything sacred?”. The ship is above the tree! There is an island leaning to the left and another horizon leaning to the right. The spatial representations are topsy-turvy. This is a reference to the way in which pirates are taking control

Is anything sacred?


Looking down the eye-sight of a gun. As a result, the image is divided into roughly four equal quarters. The color structure reflects the divisions too – so green is used in the top left and bottom right quarters only, etc. This helps to make the picture more dynamic


Helter Skelter Horizon

I love the song “Helter Skelter” by the Beatles and Helter Skelter’s are interesting constructions that create a swirling effect. This makes for an interesting idea – a horizon that also swirls just like a Helter Skelter. It is probably impossible to create horizons coming out in all directions in this manner and as such, I had to simplify the idea. I used the swirl in the negative space to create something similar.

Helter Skelter Horizon

To create many of these artworks, I started by researching clipart and other visual elements using Google. I then combined elements using Adobe Photoshop elements on my Apple Macbook Pro and experimented with them, until I had something I could use. For more information on spatial representations, please contact me

Spatial representations


Spatial representations are an important and common aspect of most cultures; they both provide information about the world and influence the way people think about and visualize the world

Author: Piers Midwinter
I am an artist and a teacher. I am currently teaching at a Cambridge International School in Vietnam.