CULTURE- ART FEATURE- Positively negative: Tim Michel's mostly good space

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In my world, there is bad negative space and good negative space. Bad negative space would be my mood last Tuesday, when I felt crushed by deadlines and friendships that seemed fractured. I pitied the fool who crossed my path. Good negative space, on the other hand, is abundant in Tim Michel's etchings on view in his landscape exhibition, "Over the Wall," at the C&O Gallery. 

The basic concept of negative space in composition refers to the area around or between objects, an emptiness that skilled artists incorporate and manipulate in creating their work. In printmaking, where positive areas are generally inked, whatever is left to the blank page is negative space. In this way, what's negative sometimes becomes positive.

An example is Tim Michel's striking "Flowering Cherry." Here the un-inked page suggests the blossoming foliage at the center of the piece and serves as the surrounding ground. Michel restricts the black ink, varying its opacity, to the trunk and branches, interstices between the leaves, shadows, and background. The result is compelling and graphically strong.

A more conventional use of negative space occurs in "Viegas," in which Michel offers a glimpse of ocean and sky through an abstract tangle of shadowy black branches. In this simple yet powerful composition, the inviting sky is nothing more than a bit of the blank page, hovering above a calm stretch of water that he has beautifully tinted a diffuse blue.

Elsewhere, negative space provides a frame that calls attention to the printed area of Michel's image. In "Montalto Moon," the rectangular space occupied by the semi-abstract moonlit landscape is quite small, but the way Michel has placed it in the upper third of an otherwise empty page fuels its impact.

Not every piece in "Off the Wall" is as successful. Michel is obviously experimenting with color and abstraction, moving away from the predominantly realistic images he exhibited at Angelo two years ago. More power to him– stretching and working through trial and error are essential for any artist's evolution. But Michel's attempts at edginess sometimes undercut the strength of his original plates, as seen in "Blue Moormans."

The worst aspect of the show, however, is its careless presentation. The framing is haphazard, and identifying labels are nothing more than torn-up sticky notes hurriedly penned and slapped on the wall. Even when an exhibition's images are positive, poor presentation inevitably creates bad negative space.

Tim Michel's exhibition, "Over the Wall," is on view at the C&O Gallery through the end of September. A portion of sales will benefit the Piedmont Environmental Council. 515 Water St. E. (next to the C&O Restaurant). 971-7044.