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Movements, Styles, and Tendencies Biomorphism


Biomorphism Collage

Started: 1924

Ended: 1955

"I allow myself to be guided by the work which is in the process of being born, I have confidence in it. I do not think about it. The forms arrive pleasant, or strange, hostile, inexplicable, mute, or drowsy. They are born from themselves. It seems to me as if all I do is move my hands."

Hans Arp Signature


Amidst a societal hangover from World War I, many European artists were going inward to mine what lies beneath. Many took part of the burgeoning interest in psychology and the physical sciences, finding inspiration in both the invisible signs and symbols that bubbled up from the subconscious and the visible internal cellular structures and life forms that make up the body. With roots deeply connected to Dada and Surrealism, an intuitive mode of expression coined Biomorphism emerged, in which an artwork's elements became modeled on naturally occurring patterns, biological forms, and shapes reminiscent of nature and living organisms. This fluid way of creating art from emotion and its resulting curvilinear aesthetic infiltrated all parts of society from painting and sculpture to decorative arts and interior design.

Uncapitalized, the term biomorphic was used to describe earlier treatments in art history, such as Rococo's common decorative motif resembling shells and acanthus leafs or Art Nouveau's serpentine arabesques, as well as in Islamic art's motifs evoking plant forms. It is also applied to organic-like forms used in various subsequent art movements.

Key Ideas

Biomorphism lent itself perfectly to the Surrealist impetus to portray the internal unconscious through automatic, stream-of-consciousness art. Even with sculpture, the practice of direct carving and using the material's grain, texture, and density to energetically shape the artwork, carried the mark of automatism. By allowing the art medium and material to inform an intuitive flow of expression, the artist brought forth a connection between the viewer and his or her own inner spirit - an artistic bridge between the human subconscious and reality.
Many biomorphic forms were seen as abstracted derivations of reality, both slightly recognizable and non-identifiable simultaneously. A common motif emphasizing this relationship between familiarity and ambiguity was in the visual correspondence between the human body and the natural landscape.
To create biomorphic images and textures, artists employed a slew of innovative painting techniques including decalcomania, where a piece of glass or paper was placed over a painted surface then removed; grattage in which an object was placed beneath paper and then painted over; and frottage, laying paper over an object and then rubbing with charcoal to create an imprint.
Many Biomorphic artists believed that the intuitive process of organic abstraction in art was an essential vehicle, via which one could arrive at the great elemental truths of existence, fortify their own spiritual aspirations, and reveal visions and messages about the future.
Biomorphism Image


The capitalized term Biomorphism first entered art history in 1936 when art historian Alfred H. Barr first used "biomorphic sculpture" for his exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art (1936). Barr, the founding director of New York's Museum of Modern Art, created a famous and influential flow chart that divided the development of abstraction into two currents. The trend that became known as Biomorphism was described as " or biomorphic.... curvilinear.... in its exaltation of the mystical, the spontaneous and the irrational." It stood in contrast to the "Paul Cézanne - Cubist geometrical tradition" described as "intellectual, structural, geometrical, rectilinear and classical in its austerity and dependence upon logic and calculation." Contrasting the "Cezanne-Cubist" works of Piet Mondrian and Naum Gabo with the Biomorphism of Hans (Jean) Arp and Joan Miró, Barr quipped, "The shape of the square confronts the silhouette of the amoeba."

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