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 inscape 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.
Roberto Matta‘s paintings give an indication of the work with diffuse light patterns and bold lines on a featureless background. This is also the period of the “inscape” series, and the closely related “psychological morphologies”. Matta’s key ambition to represent and evoke the human psyche in visual form was filtered through the writings of Freud and the psychoanalytic view of the mind as a three-dimensional space: the ‘inscape’.” According to the essay on Matta in Crosscurrents of Modernism, the inscapes’ evocative forms “are visual analogies for the artist’s psyche”. In his art Matta creates new dimensions in a blend of organic and cosmic lifeforms. He was one of the first artists to take this abstract leap.
Inscape art is Roberto Matta’s Psychological Morphology, (painted in about 1938), with its landscape-like blue sky and horizon, combined with biomorphically suggestive and fluidly interacting figures, is a good example of what Prof. Claude Cernuschi (Boston College) has identified in Matta’s work as “the psychoanalytic view of the mind as a three-dimensional space: the ‘inscape’.”
Inscape felt that everything in the universe was characterized by what he called inscape, the distinctive design that constitutes individual identity. This identity is not static but dynamic. Each being in the universe ‘selves,’ that is, enacts its identity. And the human being, the most highly selved, the most individually distinctive being in the universe, recognizes the inscape of other beings in an act, the apprehension of an object in an intense thrust of energy toward it that enables one to realize specific distinctiveness. Ultimately, the instress of inscape leads one to Inscape, for the individual identity of any object is the stamp of divine creation on it.
According to Professor Claude Cernuschi, writing in a catalogue for a Matta exhibition at Boston College (see external link below), 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 Dawn Adès (p. 233) 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.” And Valerie Fletcher, in Crosscurrents of Modernism (p. 241), writes that during this time Matta “created with startling mastery the paintings he called ‘inscapes’ or ‘psychological morphologies.’ ” See also Miriam Basilio’s essay, “Wifredo Lam’s ‘The Jungle’ and Matta’s ‘Inscapes’ “.
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 (no relation), 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. See the article titled simply ‘inscape’ for more information on this.) More recently, in a 1998 review of a Mary Frank exhibition in New York City (cited below), 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 and others above, the leading journal of art therapy was formerly called simply Inscape. The journal is now called International journal of art therapy : Inscape. (This is not to be confused with the Inscape magazine produced by Brigid Marlin’s Society for Art of Imagination.)
Surrealism is a cultural movement that began in the early 1920s, and is best known for its visual artworks and writings. Artists painted unnerving, illogical scenes with photographic precision, created strange creatures from everyday objects, and developed painting techniques that allowed the unconscious to express itself. Its aim was to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality”.
Surrealist works feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur; however, many Surrealist artists and writers regard their work as an expression of the philosophical movement first and foremost, with the works being an artifact.
Inscape art believed that Surrealism would advocate the idea that ordinary and depictive expressions are vital and important, but that the sense of their arrangement must be open to the full range of imagination according to the Hegelian Dialectic. They also looked to the Marxist dialectic and the work of such theorists as Walter Benjamin and Herbert Marcuse.
Freud’s work with free association, dream analysis, and the unconscious was of utmost importance to the Surrealists in developing methods to liberate imagination. They embraced idiosyncrasy, while rejecting the idea of an underlying madness.
Beside the use of dream analysis, Inscape art emphasized that one could combine inside the same frame, elements not normally found together to produce illogical and startling effects. The more the relationship between the Inscape art realities is distant and true, the stronger the image will be−the greater its emotional power and poetic reality.”
Inscape art revolutionize human experience, in its personal, cultural, social, and political aspects. They wanted to free people from false rationality, and restrictive customs and structures.
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, which see. It could be, however, that this use of the term is intended as a double-entendre, evoking those other meanings of “inscape”.