Psychological Morphology by Roberto Matta

Inscape, in visual art, is a term especially associated with certain works of Chilean artist Roberto Matta, but it is also used in other senses within the visual arts. Though the term has been applied to stylistically diverse artworks, it usually conveys some notion of representing the artist’s psyche as a kind of interior landscape. The word inscape can therefore be read as a kind of portmanteau, combining interior (or inward) with landscape.

According to Professor Claude Cernuschi, Matta’s use of the term inscape for a series of landscape-like abstract or surrealist paintings reflects ‘the psychoanalytic view of the mind as a three-dimensional space: the ‘inscape.” The ‘inscape’ concept is particularly apt for Matta’s works of the late 1930s. As art historian Dawn Ades writes, ‘A series of brilliant oil paintings done during the years of his [Matta’s] first association with the Surrealists explore visual metaphors for the mental landscape.’

The term inscape was later taken up by the leading Australian surrealist James Gleeson, American abstract artists such as James Brooks, Jane Frank, and Mary Frank, and even a group of British fantasy artists founded by Brigid Marlin in 1961 and calling themselves the ‘Inscape Group.’ (The latter group may have had in mind another sense of the word ‘inscape’, associated with the British poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. More recently, in a 1998 review of a Mary Frank exhibition in New York, Carol Diehl writes, ‘Titled ‘Inscapes,’ the paintings are landscapes of the soul….’ Also clearly referring to the psychoanalytical meaning of the word as described by Prof. Cernuschi, the leading journal of art therapy was formerly called simply ‘Inscape.’ The journal is now called ‘International journal of art therapy: Inscape.’

The word ‘inscape’ is sometimes used, perhaps with a bit of poetic license, to refer to the domain of interior design, suggesting that the interior of a house or building is a kind of interior (or indoor) landscape, a counterpart to the landscape surrounding the structure. This is the sense suggested by the name of the South African interior design school Inscape Design College (however, they may be referring to the poetic usage: distinctive design that constitutes individual identity).


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