© 2016 All images copyright of Arryn Snowball

If one sees two or more figures overlapping one another, and each of them claims for itself the common overlapped part, then one is confronted with a contradiction of spatial dimensions. to resolve this contradiction one must assume the presence of a new optical quality. The figures are endowed with transparency; that is, they are able to interpenetrate without an optical destruction of each other. Transparency however, implies more than an optical characteristic, it implies a broader spatial order. Transparency means a simultaneous perception of different spatial locations. Space not only recedes but fluctuates in a continuous activity. The position of the transparent figures has equivocal meaning as one sees each figure now as the closer now as the further one. (Gyorgy Kepes, Language of Vision)

The transparent ceases to be that which is perfectly clear and becomes that which is clearly ambiguous.

Transparency: Literal and Phenomenal

Colin Rowe; Robert Slutzky


, Vol. 8. (1963), pp. 45-54.

Some superimpositions of form overcome space and time fixations. They transpose insignificant sigularities into meaningful complexities... The transparent quality of the superimpositions often suggest transparency of context as well, revealing unoticed structural qualities in the object. (Lazlo Maholy-Nagy, Vision in Motion)

There is something in the transparent layers that has to do with movement and time, a sense of duration. However when these are joined into a geometric shape it becomes more complex as it also adds a semblance of depth.

In this sketch (a.) can be either two transparent squares overlapping, or a single square repeated, implying movement, a Muybridge style sequence.


However, if you join the corners or the edges, as in (b.) it becomes a 3-dimensional shape, here a cube. Instead of movement you have an implied depth. Twisted perhaps, but no longer a sequence.

My sheet paintings use (a.). overlapping forms, quite flat, either multiple forms or the same form repeated over time, suggesting movement and duration.

The House of Breath paintings use both (a.) and (b.). and are more complex and ambiguous for it.  Forms are sometimes overlapping and sometimes joined on the edges, (joined especially at the top and bottom points of the diamond form). So you get both a sense of a dimensional structure combined with an overlapping sequence style duration. Depth/flatness and movement/time, are combined and interwoven. This is partly what makes them intriguing and ambiguous.

Structure transparency and time